Alex Gold is the co-founder of Buzzstarter, a marketing technology company in San Francisco working with the world’s largest brands like Dove, Axe, Degree, Clear, Danone Activa, and Aeropostale to drive higher return on investment for their ad campaigns.
Buzzstarter is a distribution marketplace and exchange that, on one side, connects any type of brand content (such as videos or articles) with hundreds of thousands of users who, on the other side, share the content. He uses data science to optimize the marketplace connections.
Originally from Toronto, Canada, and a lawyer by trade, Mr. Gold’s background is in the entertainment and advertising industries working with Discovery Communications, Vuguru, LLC, and DDB Canada. I sat down with him to discuss his rapidly growing company and the future of communications technology.
After 5.5 months, you’ve had significant traction with some of the world’s most prominent brands? How did you get from 0 to 60 in such a short time, when most entrepreneurs need much longer to build momentum?
Great question. Two reasons: 1) addressing real pain and acute need and 2) maniacal research and planning. Brands are feeling real pain with online marketing right now. There are so many options, and target audiences are not migrating to one or two online destinations. They are splintering to hundreds of thousands. This gives brands, who are used to buying single destination advertising like television a massive headache but also a lot of fear of missing out or FOMO. So Buzzstarter comes in with a value proposition of: 1) a single destination site that will give your brand access to hundreds of thousands of channels; 2) a laser sharp and very open focus on metrics; and 3) increased ROI. People start paying attention. We back that up with an acute understanding of what specific needs are on our platform. We designed it with that in mind.
What were some of the tactics you used to launch Buzzstarter and get it off the ground fast?
We analyzed each step of the process: research, development, operations in a very methodical way. I suggest this to any entrepreneur. This may be in contrast to what you think about most startups, where one prominent entrepreneur described it as “putting on a parachute while falling down.” My Co-Founder Kenzi Wang and I spent months in customer development obtaining information on what our target users (brands and advertisers) wanted. We did not want to build a product on intuition and we shifted the focus numerous times in research. With development, we started two parallels: product engineering, which is typical, but also sales and advisory. Since we knew sales would take some time to get off the ground, we set about creating relationships on an advisory level with potential partners months ahead of time. We are lucky in a way that one of our first customers, Lou Paik, from Danone, has an incredible amount of vision and foresight in the digital space. This gave us a running start. And for operations, we carefully engaged in a trial period with many of our colleagues where they were asked to generate real value before permanent onboarding. We have a great team as a result like our designer Zach Zorbas and our account manager, Melissa Aiello.
You work very closely with large brands. What do large brands gain from working with startups like Buzzstarter as opposed to their traditional established agencies?
Very timely and funny. Well, first, they usually get to have their dollar go further because startups offer better ROI and more efficiency in their offerings. Large brands get the benefit of the startups’ deep knowledge of up-to-the-minute innovation. Startups act as brands’ eyes and ears on the ground and in some instances form external innovation teams. Large brands can employ startups to source new trends and even partners. My brands ask me all the time what new emerging social media sites are out there as I get calls asking what Medium and Secret are (side note: sign up for Secret – it’s awesome). Dave McClure, the Founder of 500 Startups has always said, “Brands have access to customers and distribution, but like many large companies they don’t move fast and aren’t experts in tech innovation. Startups are tech-savvy and can impart and even transfer rapid innovation forward.”
Does BuzzStarter apply to just advertising? Can it apply to content creators like filmmakers or musicians who have a need to distribute their message cost-efficiently and can’t afford to do so through traditional means?
Yes, of course. We’ve never seen Buzzstarter as applied only to advertising. We anticipate a very near future in which our plug-and-play platform assists in optimizing communications for nearly every creator of content: from an advertiser to a filmmaker to a musician to nearly any writer. We are banking on the fact that as the number of means for communicating online increase, the amount of noise is also going to increase. What’s going to matter most is relevance and optimization. Relevant audience targeting and optimization of message.
This is a great time to switch gears. What inspired your career move from producing creative content to leading a team of engineers and data scientists to drive efficiency in creative content distribution through technology?
One word: the market. Coming from the traditional entertainment side at Discovery and Vuguru, I saw that entertainment distribution windows were starting to narrow with the arrival of Netflix and Amazon. But consumers were (and still are) moving faster than any one platform. They are consuming content not just in one destination but in a multiplicity of applications, sites, and channels that are not limited to the social web or where you can buy exposure. The only way to harness this — to truly harness these new market dynamics — was through data and technology. I saw what Andreas Wigand was doing at Amazon in regards to targeting audiences across different channels and was shocked that no plug-and-play solution existed. If you wanted to target audiences on one blog versus another you needed to make separate deals. On each social network, another separate deal. That’s enough to give anyone a headache. I knew there was a need to create a plug and play solution that allowed any content creator or advertiser the opportunity to distribute across all of these apps and social media outlets that no one else can get into. And now we have the engineering and data science to make it work. So, I partnered with Kenzi Wang, a growth engineer, moved to San Francisco, and started Buzzstarter.
Was the transition from being a creative to being a technologist challenging?
Yes, it was, although I find my creative side to be an immense asset. Initially, it was hard getting my head wrapped around the concept of scalability at inception. Building a technology platform requires that every function and action be scalable to a target market with minimal labor. By contrast, developing a television series or a film is iterative, customized, and often personal. Coming into the tech world, this was a jarring difference for me but as soon as I learned the ropes, I started to jump. In fact, I use my more creative skills every day in iterative product focused problem solving and roadmapping. I have picked that up directly from the story-editing and development process. It allowed us to craft a user focused story faster and launch the company sooner.
Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs coming from the corporate world?
Yes. This may sound trite, but you have to be an optimist. You also have to be open to a flexible schedule. You may have heard it before, but working in a startup is backbreaking and awful. There are many times you may want to give up. This means you constantly need to be an optimist. You always have to keep your eye on the positive aspects. Sometimes, admittedly, even blind optimism helps. The other thing you need to be open to is a flexible schedule. Coming from the corporate world, you may be used to 9-5 meetings and some weekend work but startup life is everywhere, all the time, including time you may think is off. This may sound obvious, but I have met many a new entrepreneur who came from the corporate world only to attempt to run their startup the same way. Not my advice. Be flexible in your schedule and time. It’s the mental barrier that makes such a difference.
Disclosure: Pham serves as an Advisor to BuzzStarter.