Startups typically face some steep challenges when it comes to finding fellow founders and funds. Brilliant, albeit inexperienced, entrepreneurs often fumble their way into discovering what ideas work and what don’t through trial and error. So, when a young company does get growth off to a smooth start, it’s a rare–and impressive–thing.
DataXu was one of those startups. Founded in 2009, the Boston-based big data marketing company ‘s crew of founders sidestepped the majority of these issues, Co-founder and Chief Customer Officer Bruce Journey told BostInno. “We haven’t had trouble raising capital,” said Journey of the now-global company that closed a growth funding round of $27 million in February 2013, and has raised $45.8 million total. In addition to capital, DataXu’s smart programmatic marketing platform has won the company a multitude of awards, most recent of which was being named Inc. 500’s No. 1 fastest growing private company in marketing and advertising, and No. 5 across all industries.
“All of a sudden, it was, ‘Here’s our little Boston startup that has just exploded,’” said Journey.
So just how did the little Boston startup explode into one of the world’s leading companies, with offices in 13 cities on three different continents, with a growth rate of 21,337 percent?
Despite DataXu’s rosy image of perfection, Journey assured that he and his three co-founders and current CEO Mike Baker, CTO Willard Simmons and SVP of Analytics and Innovation Sandro Catanzaro still dealt with their fare share of hurdles when they began DataXu. “There were many Saturday mornings in Ed (Crawley, whose MIT Lab DataXu was founded out of)’s kitchen, or at his house up in Vermont,” chuckled Journey.
The only way to learn what not to do is from experience.
When Journey, Baker, Simmons and Catanzaro teamed up to start DataXu, they all had rich backgrounds in different areas of technology and business. Baker is a serial entrepreneur, responsible for creating and running Nokia Interactive and founding mobile media company Enpocket, while Simmons, the brain behind the initial idea of using big data for marketing and advertising sales, holds a PhD from MIT in Aeronautics and Astronautics and is an expert in system design and real-time software. In addition to starting a company that was later acquired by Unilever, Catanzaro also earned two degrees from MIT, including a degree from Sloan School of Management and a Master’s in Aeronautics and Astronautics.
“The exec team is extremely well-seasoned,” said Journey. “Though it works for some people, we didn’t start it as a bunch of kids getting together in a garage…and I think that was ultimately to our advantage.”
Journey clocked a decade at MIT Technology Review before founding DataXu.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same that doesn’t work over and over again,” said Journey. “You learn and adjust as you go.”
When you discover a novel solution, there’s a good chance that you will have to wait for the industry to catch up.
One of the most imposing obstacles that DataXu dealt with was getting the pre-existing players in the marketing and advertising space to buy-in to their programmatic marketing tool.
“We have tech that is disrupting the entire industry,” Journey said of the company’s revolutionary big data programmatic marketing tool. “Educating the industry of what its benefits are, and what its pitfalls are, has been a challenge.”
This can admittedly be a trying process. But, as Journey pointed out, once the product or method is acquired by your audience or market, chances are the consumers will buy-in.
“Consumers’ behavior changes more quickly than marketers change. We saw this in the ’70s in the transition from print to TV, in the ’80s with TV to cable, in the ’90s with the advent of the Internet, and now, with social media and smartphones,” explained Journey. “The consumer makes the switch, while the whole of the advertising industry lags behind two to three years.”
In short, patience is a virtue, and it pays off.
Starting a company is a 24/7 job. No, seriously.
It’s no mystery that entrepreneurs pour their time and energy into their projects. But Journey says that, even then, inexperienced innovators often underestimate their endeavor.
“When you have the vision and are able to look around that corner and have a passionate commitment to it, then it becomes a twenty-four-seven thing,” noted Journey.
Journey also warned about the potential impact the startup life can have on families and relationships.
“Most entrepreneurs, when you’re starting out, you don’t know what you are getting into,” said Journey. “These are not 9-to-5 jobs. These are all-the-time jobs. When we were starting the company, and even now, we don’t really stop…unless you’re prepared to do that and are in the right place as an entrepreneur, it might not be for you.”