Advertising technology company Adboss describes itself as a one-stop solution for planning and buying advertising, aimed primarily at SMEs.
Founded by Melbourne-based brothers Eden and Jason Rose, the web-based platform went live in late 2010 and has already signed up more than 100 advertisers.
The Adboss founders talk to StartupSmart about the technicalities of advertising, and the highs and lows of being brothers in business.
What prompted you to go into business together?
The first answer to that is biological in the sense that we’re brothers. We also both work in media and advertising, so we would often talk about our experiences with clients and the challenges they face when buying advertising.
Twenty or 30 years ago, the advertising industry used to be such a simple landscape but it is now increasingly complicated. A lot of SME advertisers don’t know where to start and where to finish.
With regard to business ideas, you always come back to an industry or an area that you know about, and we thought there was an opportunity to provide a platform for companies when planning and buying their advertising.
What was the process from there?
We had one or two meetings with some high level, semi-retired executives and road-tested a few ideas.
We thought, before we jump into this, we wanted some senior thought as to what would work. From there, it was a question of taking initial ideas and people’s feedback and sketching it up.
We spent a few months taking it from an idea into a proper concept. It was then a question of finding the right IT company.
What challenges did you face finding the right IT company?
It was a long process of finding the right IT partner because we knew it would be a fairly long-term relationship, and we were 100% reliant on their assistance and expertise.
We started with one company but things derailed for different reasons so then we started with a new company. It was a long saga – probably 15 to 16 months to take it from a concept drawing into a fully functioning website.
Luckily, Eden had worked in a software company and had a particularly good contact who was able to sort through propositions so that we knew we were getting into bed with the right partner.
It certainly helped to have someone we trusted to be sitting in on those meetings to explore IT issues.
We learnt that picking a partner is very hard – the reality is that you work with these people on a day-to-day basis so it’s as much about their personality as it is about their skills.
How did you develop the platform?
You assume that it’s all going to be pretty simple. You don’t realise how complicated it can be.
We knew we had to keep it really simple so people could understand the concept, but not so simple that there was no flexibility to respond to specific requirements that inevitably crop up.
So we had to draw a line in the sand somewhere.
We made a point of user testing the site the whole way through the development phase. One of the scary things was inviting companies to trial it because you’re typically either very close to the right answer or very far away.
By doing that, we picked up things in those sessions that we would have never anticipated. The site was more complex at the beginning than how we ended up finishing it off.
How did you pitch the idea to potential clients?
Sometimes, someone would come to us after doing a Google search – it was as simple as that. In other instances, we would organise a face-to-face meeting with a client to get them registered.
We relied on referrals, based on our old contacts, and also LinkedIn helped us reconnect with some old managers. LinkedIn continues to be a good source for us.
Having some level of familiarity with people made a massive difference.
What is your pricing structure?
The simplest answer is that for an SME advertiser, the system is free. We recognised early on that we were a new business with a new concept, and asking advertisers to cough up $500 or $1,000 would make the barriers to entry much harder.
For a media company, it is free for them to register with us but we charge a success commission. That is our only source of revenue at the moment.
We currently have around 100 registered advertisers and we’d hope to double that by the end of the year. We’re never going to be a business with Facebook numbers – that’s not what we’re about.
What are your points of difference?
We’re not necessarily trying to replace what already exists. Advertisers out there are open to doing business in a very different way.
It’s like stock roking – there are still lots of face-to-face brokers and then there are online brokers who offer a service for a different sensibility.
Increased transparency and the efficiency of being able to do it online – they’re some of our points of difference that will help us to challenge the status quo.
How was the business funded?
It was a combination of sources. Eden and I contributed our own money, and we also secured funding from a private investor.
We spent north of $100,000 on the website itself, which is obviously a substantial amount for a website. They can be complicated, time-consuming things to build.
Outsourcing has helped us maintain a tight budget. We’ve heavily relied on outsourcing to third parties – we’ve outsourced IT companies, SEO experts, etc.
For a web-based business, there is obviously a lot of value in having an internal IT person but we don’t have that luxury. One of our key risk mitigation measures was finding an IT partner that was agile and responsive.
Being brothers, what impact does that have on the business?
The fact that we are brothers meant we tended to talk about the business a lot. We would be at a family dinner or a birthday and end up talking about the business. We’ve since made a conscious decision not to talk about work until we physically get into the office.
The benefit is that there is no fear of hurting the other person’s feelings; you’re not as worried about all the normal pleasantries of a workplace. We can read each other very well and we know when to stay out of each other’s way.
What’s the biggest risk you face?
Planning and buying advertising represents a significant opportunity – it’s an untapped area in our opinion.
The reality is that the media landscape changes so much these days that it’s hard to know how much you need to evolve and change in order to stay relevant.
But we’d love to think that Adboss could develop a 360-degree solution for everything in advertising and media.
We’d also like to see us heading into the education sector in the next few years. We’d like to open advertisers’ eyes about what’s a good brief, what’s a good proposal, and what’s the right medium. That would be another aspect to the system that’s not just transactional.