I’ve known Todd for about 5 years now. I first met him when I was working at Marketcircle, buying ads to promote Billings on various design/freelance websites.
Todd is the founder of BuySellAds, a self-serve ad platform that deals with high quality digital advertising. Todd bootstrapped the company himself, and has built it up into a great business.
Todd’s an honest and hardworking guy, and it’s always a pleasure to ask him a bunch of questions. I interviewed him back in 2012, and once before that as well.
Read on to learn more about Todd and the company he’s built.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where have you traveled to? What kind of music do you listen to? What are your hobbies?
I haven’t travelled much; however, I did live in Brazil for a year when I was 18 and traveled all over Brazil. I’ve traveled in the US a little bit as well, but I still have plenty of exploring left to do. I’m somewhat of a homebody, and enjoy my routine and the comforts of my own home. Outside of work, I don’t have much time for hobbies these days, and prefer to spend all non-work time with my family.
What was your first job growing up?
My first job was as a golf ball retriever at a local golf course. There is a salt-water river (so, perhaps it’s considered a marsh…) that runs through the middle of the course and at low tide you could walk through the mud and pick up the golf balls. The course would pay me $0.05 a ball I think… and I would fish them out of the mud, clean them off, and the course would resell them as used balls for $0.50 each.
Tell us about the early days of BuySellAds. Where’d the idea come from, and how’d you get started? When were you able to hire your first full-time employee?
I started BuySellAds so that I could have an easier way of selling ads on a couple hobby websites I was running at the time. There were plenty of ad companies, tools, and networks, but none that made it super easy for me (and my advertisers) to quickly purchase an ad on my websites. So, I built BuySellAds. I literally just built it. It wasn’t pretty, but it did that one thing really well. We were able to hire our first employee after about 12 months. I was also working a full-time job for the first 11 months after launch.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made? How did you come back from it?
I’m not a big fan of keeping track of mistakes. I’m sure we’ve made plenty of mistakes, but they all just seem to go away since the process of making mistakes is part of what happens while trying to find success. So, I just think of them a little differently, that’s all. If there ever comes a day when we write the final chapter for BuySellAds, I’m sure I will look back with hindsight and be able to pinpoint and better articulate specific things we did (or didn’t do) that left us short of hitting our goals. Broadly speaking, however, I think most mistakes come from focusing too much on chasing dollars (when you’re not sure if the value you’re providing is actually there) or focusing too much on what your competitors are doing.
What was the most important decision you’ve had to make at BuySellAds?
I’d have to say deciding not to sell the company back in the summer of 2009. I had some casual conversations going that in all likelihood would have resulted in a sale if I had pursued them a bit more. At the time I wasn’t “done” executing on the vision (still not done…) and ultimately felt as though we would have been selling ourselves short. As it turns out, we most certainly would have sold for far too little. So I’m glad we kept going and tuned out the interested parties.
Can you tell us anything about the strategic acquisition of Fusion Ads? How has the addition of Fusion helped BuySellAds grow?
I have always loved the one-ad-per-page networks modeled after The Deck. There’s simply no better way to monetize a small-medium sized site or hobby project in the design/dev space. Acquiring Fusion really came down to our infatuation with the model, the design/dev community overall, and just wanting to continue on doing what Fusion was great at. About a year later we acquired Drew Wilson’s Yoggrt, Carbon Ads, and Syndicate Ads. Most recently we bought the domain name from InfluAds (they were about to shut it down). So, while we may seem like some large company trying to “own” everything in this space, it’s really just because we love the space. We love working with the advertisers in the creative space. We love working with the publishers, and it’s our way of funneling money from advertisers to creators within the space. These networks are labors of love more than anything else.
When you’re evaluating a new product idea, what’s involved in the research/planning? What’s your favourite part of the process?
It’s really just about talking to customers to find out what we can build that will be valuable to them. We go out to customers with an assumption that there is something we can build that they will find valuable, and we test whether or not their feedback matches our assumptions. My favorite part is when we receive enough data to put forth an effort to build something, and then spending that next week or so with the team executing on a the new product to get to a version 1. It’s a special thing, starting from scratch and having a real working product up and running within 1-2 weeks. We did this recently for our Publisher Pro for DFP product here: http://pro.buysellads.com/dfpselfserve.
How many employees do you have working with you? Do they all work from the BSA office, or do you have remote workers as well?
We have 17 on the team right now. Three work here out of the Boston office (including myself), and the rest are spread out and remote. More than half of us are on Eastern time, and it works out pretty well.
How do you keep employees motivated? Has it been tougher to manage everyone as the team has grown?
I think it comes down to working on challenging problems. I’m not sure I can say that we’ve consistently kept everyone on the team motivated. There are natural ups and downs to everything. However, we’re here to build products and make customers happy and those two things are generally fulfilling. Our next challenge is finding another winning product that we can all rally behind like we did in the early days of the Marketplace.
Hiring great people is always tuff. How do you find new employees? Are they mostly inbound requests or do you go looking for new talent yourself?
Your best hires will be from existing employee referrals. Referrals will, more often than not, be great hires. The employee referring will be judged by the quality of their referral, and most people don’t like to shoot themselves in the foot.
Do you have any desire to enter the world of offline advertising?
I’d love to do some innovation in the product placement space.
Have you ever had the desire to be on the other end of advertising – as either a publisher, advertiser, or perhaps involved in the creative component?
Not really. We like building software for advertisers and publishers. Building tools to empower both parties is more of our sweet spot as a company.
What’s your hardware/software setup look like?
15 inch Macbook Pro, with Thunderbolt display. Postbox for email, Espresso as a code editor, Cornerstone for SVN, Unfuddle for project management/svn management, and Skype/Campfire for working with the team.
Do you find you need to have a regular routine to get the most accomplished in a day or are you a fly by the seat of your pants type of worker? What’s a typical week look like for you?
Since I have family priorities I tend to keep a fairly set schedule. I typically work from 9 to 5 without much exception. Having the set time allows me to focus more during those hours since I know that it’s “my time” to get stuff done. Anything I don’t get done between 9 and 5 likely won’t get touched until the next day. Constraints breed creativity. From time to time, when I have interruptions during the day that prevent me from staying focused, I will hop online at night after everyone has gone to bed and get some work done between 9 and midnight.
Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Stop making excuses. Build something. Talk to some potential customers and go for it. Life is short.
If you could spend a few hours over dinner with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
Easy question – my family. I’d much rather spend my time with them than anyone in the world.
How do you see advertising changing over the next 5 years?
Mobile needs to see some innovation. Traditional banner ads in general need to see some innovation. Consumers are getting smarter and smarter and advertisers will need to find new and creative ways to reach them. That’s a fairly broad set of statements, but in general we’re in a time right now where the medium’s that ads are displayed on are evolving much faster than the targeting and capabilities of the ads being displayed.
Check out Todd’s blog and follow him on Twitter here. If you’re an advertiser looking to advertise in the creative/tech space (or a publisher looking to sell ad space), check out https://buysellads.com.
You can follow me on Twitter here to ensure you don’t miss any of the other interviews in the series.