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Ep. 40: Alison Alvarez of BlastPoint

Alison talks about how BlastPoint’s predictive analytics enables Peoples Natural Gas to pinpoint households at the highest risk of defaulting on payments, so they can inform these households about available assistance programs. BlastPoint, Inc., is a B2B provider of big data and analytics solutions that companies across sectors rely on to optimize revenue growth. Serving the retail, energy, enterprise, and franchise industry, as well as numerous nonprofit community organizations, BlastPoint helps companies discover, target and engage the humans in their data.

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We're hanging out here with Allison Alvarez from BlastPoint. Today on our 50 Summer Stories of Pittsburgh Tech, brought to you course by my partners, my friends over at Comcast, I couldn't tell all these awesome stories without their support. Today's story is going to be so amazing because the work that Alison and her team is doing a blast point that she's describing. To me, it's like using AI. It's not make your life miserable. You know, that's what it comes. Let's use some technology to improve our lives. And you are doing that day in and day out. So good to see you again. Alison, thanks for taking the time to talk to me today.

It's crazy. Like I'm having a good time now. Like all during the day, I'm always kind of like, and then I turned my record button on, I get this super shot of energy because I get the honor of talking to the coolest people in Pittsburgh's tech sector and he for sure are one of those people man you are making tick. That's for sure. So, first off, just tell us about yourself real fast. You got a really cool background and give us a little overview of up Last point. And then I want to jump right into what's going on with your deal with people's gas. Because when I saw this news release, I was like, I have to talk to house, you're on my list to begin with. And I was picking out, like, Who were the people that I want to talk to. And then I got this neutral. I'm like, I gotta get her up there now. So it's all here.

My name is Alison Alvarez. I'm the CEO and co founder of BlastPoint. I'm one of the resident nerds here in Pittsburgh. And I work with my team, and we build systems that help big companies create lifelong relationships with their customers, through understanding who they are by the power of AI driven personas. So understanding not only you know what potential behavior people have now how it's going to be in the future, and also understanding the why people are doing the things they're doing because it's really critical for addressing it. Because if you don't know people, you can't address what their needs. Are you are with companies across all kinds of industries give us like a little taste of some of the cool types of industries you work in, or if you can mention any other customer names, just because I think it's always cool to be able to mention a few here and there.

Yeah, so we work with both people's gas and Duquesne lights, and some of the largest utilities in both the US and Canada. We work with one of the largest car brands in the world. And also lots of emerging brands. So Choola here in town is also one of our customers. Oh, Choola now that's tasty. Yeah. I hope they're paying you and they're tasty food as well as cold hard cash.

Luckily, money can buy food.

That is true. That is true. So let's talk about people's natural gas project that that I was I was alerted to I think it's just amazing because your technology is helping them find customers you could potentially default on the utility bills and allows them to kind of you send them materials to show them that there are resources out there to help them keep their gas gasps bill currents, it's so important because we know everyone's really stretching in this day and age, and it's gonna become winter again.

Yeah, so this is actually a really important time of year because at the end of August, there is a federal program called lightkeeper. That helps provide supplementary dollars for people who are struggling to pay their bills. And if we're talking about Pittsburgh here, most every utility in town has, you know, what's known as a rape case means they've talked to the utility, the PC, so they're the ones who help set utility rates. And as part of those utility rates, there is capacity built in to help people in need. So we have a federal program, we've got our local programs, our utilities, and we've also got a program called dollar energy. And all three of them are around to help people pay their bills this time of year. Honestly, any time of the year, and they're also really excited. critical for helping people stay on track with their bills and stay engaged with utilities. I think when people get their their utilities shut off, everybody kind of loses. You know, it's the homeowner loses, their neighbors lose because you have somebody just dressed in your neighborhood. And usually some selves are essentially like cutting off their own customers. And so, you know, really, especially in times like these, when we're seeing lots and lots of households who have never paid late, they're suddenly paying late. And we know that it means that people are in economic distress. And there are actually lots of levers you can pull to help get people back on track that is not cutting them off from their utilities.

Exactly. It's just so important. That's why I think this is so cool. Can you give us like a high level view as to how this works? Like Like, like, what, what kind of data are you analyzing, crunching to then alert them that you got this group of folks here that might be in danger of not being able to pay your bill?

Yeah, so we're trying to understand what's going on to the house a little I don't want to Anybody for breakfast? Because like that's not, that's not the personal level we're looking at, right? But you want to look at sort of the neighborhood and understand like, Okay Are there are people who are hourly workers. And if we're thinking about the current downturn, who's the most affected, it's people have really highly variable schedules for people who have lost their jobs. And there are certain sectors where people have lost their jobs. So if you can trace that to individual households, we have a better idea of what's going on. And if someone's unemployed, being like, give me money is not like the most effective way of working with somebody. And in fact, it's a great way to get somebody to wait until the last minute and potentially get themselves cut off. So what you want to do is create an open positive line of communication. You want to be able to lend a helping hand which is something that that our utilities can do. And you also want to give people options and a lot of people have really big feelings about taking assistance. I'm just thinking about my own family and some of the struggles. I know my I have myself paying bills and also my family. Members. And you know, part of it is just like, I don't want to accept help from anybody. And so I might be reluctant to actually research these programs and make sure that I sign up. But if somebody comes and finds me, not only like, does that but talks to me in a way where I'm ready to listen, yeah, absolutely much more likely that this will be successful. So if you, you know, reach out to somebody who may not even know that these programs exist, you're, you're, you're more likely to be successful than if you just never speak to them. And you're just like, figure it out. And if you think about people who are dealing with like lower salaries, they're dealing with unemployment, and they don't have a lot of bandwidth to think about everything. And they're thinking about housing, they're thinking about food, they're thinking about so many different things. So being able to get on their radar is really critical. And it involves being proactive. You can't wait for them to do it.

Exactly right. And that's why it isn't a good solution is so cool because it is using the most advanced tech technology to CPC now and get people the help that they need in such a cool way like that. So so this is actually up and running now, is it deployed and doing its thing?

Yeah. So we've had really good results. And I think we've managed to find people who are definitely struggling. And again, I don't know anybody's business, but I just want to find people who are good candidates and help them you know, even if they're not signing up for assistance programs, help them sign up for payment plans, help them you know, figure out how to qualify for federal dollars for weatherproofing we can do that strategically, Oh, interesting, isn't even going to that level where you can claim the waste work saving money in the future and everything like that, too.

Yes. And it's it's August right now. So it's hot. You know, we're in a maybe we have our ACS on, but I think a lot of us like, I know myself, my money goes to like that heating bill. And so the thing that we're looking at ahead to is like, the darkest February is to have everybody prepared for For that, so, you know, we've got about six months of runway, what can we do to help people keep their bills as low as possible so that they're more likely to afford them later on, even if they have a disruption in their household income.

Very cool stuff. Now, I'm assuming this is something that you can obviously scale to other utility providers and so forth. are other folks interested in deploying this technology? It seems like a no brainer. Why would you not use this?

Yeah, actually, we have customers in eight states that are using this even have an entire province in Canada. That's using our system on the province. Wow. Yeah, we have an entire territory right there. Which is, you know, one of the good provinces.

But you know, what they're doing in Alberta is they're not using us for bill payment. They're looking ahead to the future for electrical vehicles. They're trying to plan their infrastructure for the next 20 years understanding where that capacity is going to be going. So we're in this big shift from the oil and gas sector that's moving into the future. The utility sector, and that's going to require infrastructure and if you know utilities, they gotta like think in terms of decades, not years. Exactly. Evil to plan for that is really helpful. But also knowing the use cases and understanding who's going to have the, you know, specific reasons to change are also really important. And we do this at a commercial level, but also at a residential level.

Fantastic stuff. So what else is going on? Last point these days? I mean, obviously, you guys are selling, you're selling stuff, utilities, like weather projects, you were going to kind of cool you can kind of allude to, cuz I know you're always working on something fun.

Yeah, um, let's see. Um, like, we're hiring a lot. Like I think that's our big thing. Let's talk about that. I think that's like, yeah, I'm hiring a lot. What?

I don't want to give away anything that like because I could talk about this for like permission of our customers and like, I don't want to reveal anything before. I can't, but I definitely could talk about hiring. So we're, you know, we're bringing a new new employees. We're hiring new developers. And this is not my favorite period of US history.

Oh, come on. It's been great, right?

The silver lining is that we've really cross paths with some really amazing people and managed to convince them to come on board. And if you're ever hired for a tech in the city, it's always a challenge. And like, we've got a lot of the big guys in the city and I'm always like, always fighting them.


You know, we managed to find some people who are really interested in not only working with really cool technology, we do some really cutting edge stuff, but also looking at how to make a difference and how to work with a company where, you know, we say no to things that we think don't make sense for us or honestly our region long term. So we were able to have a lot of control over What we build or don't build, and we work with a lot of developers to who this really mean something?

Absolutely, that's just so cool. So you're in hiring mode, which is just absolutely fantastic. And I mean, at the end of the day, I know last time I talked to you, you're all about the flexibility of the workplace. So this working remote stuff is not that big of a deal to you guys. But you know how to navigate this without a problem. So bringing new people on despite not having an actual office really get to on a regular basis is probably not a stumbling block for you.

Yeah, we haven't been in the same room since I think March 14. Yeah. It's been a while. Um, so let's have met up. You know, in Safeway, so that we can exchange information or like work together like for pair programming, but generally, we let our employees set their level of safety and adhere to that as much as possible. At one of my one of my employees, potty trained her child.

Last month, she was able to do that while we're full time and taking care of her kid. I have a nine year old who's downstairs during her schoolwork right now. Okay. Oh, you know, I think we're all juggling quite a bit. But I think, you know, being a software company, we're on easy mode compared to pretty much any other kind of business. So it's been really easy for us to kind of separate into our own places. I miss whiteboarding with everybody. Yeah, that's our thing to counsel. We want a giant virtual whiteboard, we can all kind of mark it up at the same time.

You know, I miss lunches we've been having like virtual happy hours. And that's been like, like a nice little substitute. But you know, I miss everybody, but we've still managed to sort of keep it together. And I think by being flexible schedules, because half of us have kids. You know, we've managed to keep it together. I think we all have varying levels of stress, but I think we're all keeping it together. So that's the really important thing. The School Year is coming up and we know that a lot of people are going to be helping their kids But virtual learning, and you know, that's going to involve taking time out from the workday. So we've been shifting our schedules so that we still have company meetings and still let people do what they've got to do for their kids.

potty training, whatever it is. Yeah. It's so cool. Awesome. Allison Alvarez blast point. You're truly making Pittsburgh proud. Your company's amazing, you're doing great work, your team's doing awesome work. That's what sets us apart. Simple as that. can't thank you enough for hanging out with me and Comcast. Tell us a little bit of your story and how you're helping people. Make sure they can get the utility bills paid something just don't think about, but there's a technology solution for it. You had it. Its at the end of August, everybody, so if you need it to sign up for it.

Very cool. Great stuff. Awesome. Thanks so much.

All right. Bye.

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