“Find a co-working space or an incubator and lean into it hard.”
How long have you been an Entrepreneur?
Did you leave a job to become an Entrepreneur?
What is the name of your current project/company?
Please describe for us in 1 sentence your current project.
Benja is a merchandise ad network that works with top-tier brands like Patagonia, Nike, and Under Armour to sell their excess inventory.
Where did the idea of your current project come from?
Both my co-founder and I felt that while Groupon is great in theory, but saw a severe short-coming: personalization. Groupon (and similar sites) had five years of purchase history for each of us, our Facebook logins, and more, but they kept offering photography lessons and didn’t adapt their offering to our interests. Further, they didn’t work with the brands that we really wanted them to work with.
We knew how to solve the personalization question – that’s an easy one in 2017 – and pounded the pavement to find out how to capture more compelling content. After a few interviews, it became evident that the standard 20-60% commission rate just wasn’t going to cut it, so we switched to an impression-based model.
With that move, we unlocked value for every party and we’ve been able to build a strong business over the last three years.
Why do you do what you do?
I care deeply about leveraging technology to eliminate barriers. There is such enormous potential just waiting to be unlocked.
What’s the one thing you wish you could go back and tell your younger self?
I worked for the well-funded Color Labs until it shockingly and abruptly shut down, which at the time was a catastrophic event. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that was a tremendous learning experience that I shouldn’t have been so panicked about.
What’s the most important piece of advice would you give to someone just starting?
Find a co-working space or an incubator and lean into it hard. The people around you will become more valuable than any customer, investor, or even direct business partner – they’re the best place to go with ideas or to vent about the challenges that you’ll face.
What is the hardest thing you have had to do regarding your business?
Fire people. I started this company when I was 25, having never managed employees who expected to be a long-term member of the team. I probably tried to avoid it for a few weeks too long, which cost the company some real money.
What does your typical day look like?
My day is centered around sprints: I’ll do three two-hour sprints of serious concentration on Benja work, which are mixed/sandwiched with sprints of work on side-projects, fun time, networking, or exercise. I find that the focus is important – but that it only works if I can break it up.
If you were to start again, and could change one thing, what would it be?
I would have spent less time fundraising and more time working on sales. Fundraising became a second full-time job, and the conversion rate (and, subsequently, return on time investment) is much lower than our sales conversion rate. We would have brought in just as much (or more) in terms of dollars if we just focused on sales.
This is something that we’re currently working through with our Initial Coin Offer and benjaCoin. We’re issuing our own cryptotoken as a means of offering pre-orders on our ad inventory, to fund our next stage of growth. While improving our cash position, this will also lead to an improved product with the move to blockchain: increased transparency and simplicity in billing.
What is the most important thing in life?
Having fun. What else is there?
What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Establishing a reputation and trust with people around the industry. Our initial results were surprising to a lot of advertisers and publishers – they simply didn’t believe us. Even though we were performing quite well, we still had to give away a lot of impressions and ad inventory just to show that we weren’t lying, since no one knew who we were. This went on for longer than you might expect. We just kept our eyes on the long-term, even with cash getting tight, and worked towards building multi-year relationships with our partners.