Interview by Vivian Chung ’16. Published April 8, 2014.
Tell us a little bit about your background. You got a degree in Economics and Mechanical Engineering and have a very diverse work background.
I've always had interest in entrepreneurship... I think that came from my dad who ran a Textile business most of his career. I started by starting a tennis racquet stringing business in high school and was hooked on the concept of setting my own strategy and being rewarded for good thinking and hard work. So it was a natural fit for me to join Trilogy right out of school because it was one of the most interesting and entrepreneurial companies around at the time.
You started Bizo. Tell us the story of how it got started.
Bizo is a marketing platform for businesses that market their products to other businesses (B2B). I got the idea when I was running products and marketing for ZoomInfo, a B2B company focused on selling to sales people and marketers. I was frustrated by the lack of solutions to help me target the right audiences to scale my marketing budgets efficiently. As I was researching what else was out there, I saw a lot of very innovative companies thinking about how to reach consumers but NOBODY thinking about reaching business professionals. So I invented it!
Tell us what types of things your role entails. What are you responsible for?
That has changed over time. When you start a company you do everything from selling to making the coffee! As you grow, you have the ability to hire people to take over specific functions like sales, marketing, product management, etc. We're about 150 people now so there's really a functional leader for everything at this point so my role is mostly focused on helping to set strategy, maintaining a great culture for hiring and retaining talent, evangelizing the company externally, and helping everyone be as productive and successful as possible. I also report to the board and work with our CFO to ensure that we are managing the company responsibly from a fiscal standpoint.
You have had a lot of experience with digital marketing. What type of role do you think digital marketing will play in upcoming start-ups and companies?
Digital marketing is the great equalizer in my mind. In the past, you had to have huge budgets to create awareness and scale because the mediums were mass-market like TV, radio and magazines. Today companies can target prospects digitally through search and display advertising with tiny hyper-targeted budgets. That's amazing! Couple that with the very low cost of getting a company started today because of the low cost of communications, email, etc. and there has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur.
You started AGEA Corporation in 1999. Can you tell us more about the ideas that started it and the acquiring process by Avalon Digital Marketing?
First of all, I made every mistake in the book when I founded and ran AGEA. It has made me a much better entrepreneur, but it was painful at the time. We had a number of initial ideas that didn't pan out (including a monitor and service for a grocery cart to help shoppers create lists at home and then show up at the grocery store with an ordered list, coupons, etc.). The ultimate idea was a mobile middleware product that helped enterprises communicate with their field forces, but we were very early to the market. We sold to Avalon because they saw big value in our mobile engine for their marketing platform, but they ended up going bankrupt, so more lessons learned there!
As the author of many publications such as "Why We'll See the First Ad Supported Phone in 2014", can you elaborate on what you believe to be the future of the advertising industry?
I think that the advertising industry is in the middle of a huge change right now and will ultimately look very different than it does today. Marketing will be automated and highly targeted based on the person and their "digital body language" or the purchase history and behaviors they exhibit online. Each device that a consumer has will be connected in a way that messages and ads are synched so they tell a much more complete and relevant story for the consumer. And to be a real futurist for a second, I also think that we'll see a world where virtual reality and self-driving cars will be a critical part of the advertising ecosystem within a decade!
Thinking back to when you were a student, were there things you wished you'd done differently to prepare for being an entrepreneur? And what did you do as a student that you are glad you did?
I actually am proud to say that I took advantage of the opportunities and got involved in a few businesses at Duke and ran one of them. This was a phenomenal set of experiences to help prepare me for my career. I think the only thing I wish I got more exposure to was coding. I learned to code as part of the mechanical engineering degree, but I think that it should have been more of a requirement to get fully proficient in a few languages.
What is some advice you would give students who are deciding between starting their own company or getting some work experience first?
There's nothing like starting a company to learn how to be an entrepreneur, but there are a number of industries that take time to really get smart about. I would say that unless you have a really exciting/killer idea in an area that you know a lot about, it makes sense to get some experience that can both teach you some core skills but also be an "idea generator" for needs in the market that you can help solve.