From Laid-Off to Industry Trailblazer with $16MM in Gross Revenue

Hello! What’s your background, and what are you working on?

Hello, my name is Kean and I am the Founder and CEO of MonetizeMore. I started MonetizeMore in 2010 with the goal of building a bootstrapped business that would dramatically increase ad revenues for publishers. Over the years, I’ve cultivated a proprietary ad optimization model for MonetizeMore and now increase ad revenues for hundreds of publisher networks in over 40 countries.

MonetizeMore provides ad tech to huge AdSense publishers that chooses the highest paying advertiser for each ad placement. This results in dramatically higher ad revenues for the publisher. By 2017, MonetizeMore had earned $16.7MM in gross revenue.

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What motivated you to get started with MonetizeMore?

I originally fell in love with the online industry when working for a large online classified network. The job was an immense learning experience, but once the recession hit the company decided to lay off the marketing department. I lost the best job I ever had but I was determined to turn the bad into something great.

Five days later, I was on a plane to South America to go on a life-changing trip. Four months into my backpacking trip, I was on a four-day trek through the incredible Inca trail towards Machu Picchu. By the end of it, I was sitting on top of Wayna Picchu reflecting on my experiences throughout my trip.

I’d had the most fulfilling time of my life and it finally clicked: I will work and travel when I want, where I want. I decided to start a business that would enable this kind of autonomous lifestyle. Seven months later, I started the digital business called MonetizeMore, which now offers an autonomous lifestyle to every member of our team.

Aspiring entrepreneurs should know that the goal is to fill a gap that currently hasn’t been filled yet, to find their niche by looking for pains to alleviate or vitamins to strengthen return on investment for businesses or individuals.

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My first client was the very employer that had laid me off. I noticed that Google had a monopoly over their unsold ad inventory, so I made a plan to create a competitive auction within their ad inventory, as opposed to having just one bidder. Though I had expertise in the inner-workings of their business, I had to pioneer all ad optimization skills. I offered them a percentage of the ad revenue increase.

I had only a small amount of savings leftover after my trip to South America, so I was hungry and driven to succeed. Once given the chance to increase my first client’s ad revenues, I was able to increase their them by millions. We still apply the initial model that I pioneered during this time to websites around the world.

What went into building the initial product?

The initial phase of MonetizeMore involved a concoction of software pulled together to get the product out the door. I was able to use a handful of third-party technologies and tie them together to offer a productized service. Initially, all my time was spent on how to further increase the ad revenues of my first client. This took creative, critical, strategic, and analytical thinking and sales skills. The MonetizeMore launch was quite lean, with the majority of associated costs being my personal living expenses.

MonetizeMore has been bootstrapped from the start. A big reason for its success is that I’ve been 100% dedicated to MonetizeMore since day one. The Google ad product suite has inspired some of the MonetizeMore technology, though we have also taken inspiration from Moz since they cultivated a community of webmasters and empowered them with content marketing and technology. This is analogous to what we have manifested in the ad tech industry.

Our product has never had an end-goal and has experienced a consistent evolution over the past eight and a half years. It started with a lot of trailblazing manual ad optimization processes and eventually became automated with technology. I honed our ad optimization model over the first few years, then standardized the practices, trained a team to do the same, and eventually automated each of the ad optimization processes.

How have you attracted users and grown MonetizeMore?

Since there was no proprietary technology to start with, I launched on day one with a productized service. My initial clients came from my network as well as conferences, and eventually began to snowball once MonetizeMore’s content marketing started to gain traction.

We have always received most of our leads from content marketing efforts like:

  • blogging
  • Youtube videos
  • answering questions on forums
  • webinars
  • social media
  • newsletter
  • content partnerships
  • technology in marketplaces like Wordpress and Chrome Extension Store
  • PR

The reason content marketing has worked so well for us is that we focused on value to the publisher readers. Our overarching goal is to increase ad revenues for publishers and solve their ad tech problems. Therefore, any piece of content is either medicine for an ad monetized publisher problem or a vitamin to increase their ad revenues. We have always committed to providing value first before asking for a dime. That is why our content marketing has gained the most traction in the ad tech industry.

If you put strong opinions out on the net, people will find you. Make sure to have an offering that backs up those opinions.

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Aspiring entrepreneurs should know that the goal is to fill a gap that currently hasn’t been filled yet, to find their niche by looking for pains to alleviate or vitamins to strengthen return on investment for businesses or individuals. Once a niche has been chosen, start blogging about it, with conviction. If you put strong opinions out on the net, people will find you. Make sure to have an offering that backs up those opinions. If you genuinely believe that what you’re offering is adding value to the industry and are always working to improve your product, you will have a lot to write about on an ongoing basis and people will find you organically.

blog

What’s your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

The MonetizeMore offering is broken down into the below products:

Google Ad Exchange (AdX) — access to the best performing demand source in ad tech for a revenue share of the AdX revenues.

Header Bidding — proprietary auction technology to ensure the highest bidder wins each ad impression and the publisher maximizes their ad revenue. A revenue share of header bid revenues is charged.

Premium Publisher — an all-inclusive white glove service that includes AdX, header bidding, and a dedicated team of ad optimization experts doing everything possible to maximize publishers’ ad revenues. A flexible pricing model is used based on the most important goals of the publisher.

I have been charging since day one. My first client agreed to a percentage of the increase in ad revenues. Thanks to some successful ad optimization, I was able to increase their ad revenues within the first month. We’ve been pretty flexible with receiving payments. Though we typically receive wire transfers, we’ve accepted many other payment methods. Money is money!

pricing

We experienced 73% growth from 2016 to 2017, with gross revenues reaching 16.7MM in 2017. This explosive growth was due to a rapid scaling of our ad technology which improved our performance, decreased churn, and increased scalability and value to our publisher clients.

I would recommend that aspiring entrepreneurs validate their business model by doing - just putting something out there as soon as possible and seeing how it lands. You don’t always need to build proprietary technology from the start, sometimes you can be clever and tie several existing technologies together to offer something of similar value and functionality. You can then validate and perfect the business model while standardizing processes as the beginning steps to building proprietary tech.

At this point, our greatest expense is our payroll. We now have a team of 120+ and have invested heavily towards the long-term future of the business, foregoing short-term profits for long-term upside. The second greatest expense is technology. In order to scale to the level we are now and carry on to where we aim to be, there are some major tech costs.

Month Revenue
Jan ‘16 245000
Jun ‘16 235000
Sep ‘16 310000
Dec ‘16 449000
Jan ‘17 746000
Jun ‘17 1510000
Sep ‘17 1420000
Dec ‘17 1996000
Jan ‘18 1440000
Jun ‘18 1610000

What are your goals for the future?

Publishers who monetize their audience via display ads can either outsource their ad operations so that one of MonetizeMore’s ad optimization teams will handle all their ad optimization tactics, execution, and strategy, or keep their ad operations in-house. If a publisher prefers to keep things in-house, they can use PubGuru (The Hootsuite of the ad technology industry), a platform developed by MonetizeMore to compliment any in-house ad operations team. PubGuru grants access to powerful ad technology built to boost ad revenue performance and optimize via an easy-to-use platform. While using PubGuru, in-house teams still getting full reporting transparency and maintain full ownership of their ad inventory.

pubguru

PubGuru will be released early 2019 and will establish itself as the go-to product to complement any publisher’s in-house ad operation team to maintain and achieve:

  • full ad inventory ownership
  • 100% transparency
  • ad revenue potential via sophisticated machine learning tech
  • optimization of their ad inventory auction on the fly via an easy-to-use platform
  • receiving notifications of ad ops errors and optimization suggestions
  • proactive traffic quality management

Our big, hairy, audacious goal is to become the go-to ad tech platform by achieving 25% market share of the top 1,000 ad monetized publishers. To do this, PubGuru must be the most reliable, easy-to-use platform that achieves the highest ad revenue return on traffic. We have many adept competitors, so out-innovating them won’t be easy, but we are confident in our strategic position and the capabilities of our team.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

If I could go back in time, I would advise my younger self to hire our current CTO two years earlier. Our current CTO has done an incredible job resurrecting our technology stack and putting the technology in a position to achieve high levels of innovation.

If I were to hire our current CTO two years earlier, I would have been able to avoid a horrible business partnership and a Google account ban that costed over $2MM. More importantly, though, MonetizeMore would be two years ahead of where it is today. Our current CTO and CPO have done an incredible job catching up our technology to get MonetizeMore to be amongst the trailblazers in the industry. However, I could only imagine the lead MonetizeMore would have if we brought our CTO onboard two years earlier.

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Here are some books that have been very valuable to my development as an entrepreneur:

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz has revolutionized my thinking around effective communication. It has improved my active listening, empathetic communication, and ability to sympathize with each of our team members to eliminate any blockers and get them to buy into our system and culture.

The 4-Hour Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss was a huge building block towards my acceptance and understanding of decentralized leadership. Without this book, I would not have been enlightened about the power of location-independent business models. It also taught that working smart is more important than working hard. We hold this value very highly in our company culture.

What’s your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?

I think it’s important for aspiring entrepreneurs to be proactive in addressing the following issues, as they are the most common reasons why startups fail.

The number one cause of failing startups is founder problems, which are unfortunately common. When the leaders don’t get along and start working against each other rather than with each other, the company suffers. If the issues are not resolved in a timely manner, they could take the company down with them.

Additionally, many businesses have great ideas that would succeed eventually but have insufficient runway to realize them. Some ideas take longer to be profitable than others. If the business does not have sufficient capital to provide a long enough runway to break-even, they could go bankrupt even though they could have broken even later and become a self-sufficient company long into the future. That’s where investment is sometimes necessary.

Where can we go to learn more?

Please add any questions or comments you may have in the section below. Otherwise, you can connect or follow MonetizeMore via the below channels:

Kean Graham , Founder of MonetizeMore

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