John is Founder and CEO of isocket, a Venture Capital backed startup in Silicon Valley and NYC that builds tech for direct ad sales. isocket is the leading platform for powering programmatic direct and self-service buying at the web’s top publishers. The Makegood recently spoke with John about advertising technology and isocket’s success.
The Makegood: isocket has won numerous innovation awards. Can you give an example of a project that you’re especially proud of?
If I had to pick it would probably be our work around bringing programmatic buying to the premium/reserve space and our direct sales integration with DFP, both of which were first-in-the-world innovations and very ahead of the curve. From a higher level I’m also proud of how we approach product development and design, which hasn’t been ad techs strongest quality in the past ; )
The Makegood: isocket is considered one of the rising stars and thought leaders in a rapidly growing industry. What can we expect to see coming from you in 2013?
We’re honored by that reputation and hope we continue earning it. It’s honestly been slightly odd for me to see all the momentum in the direct sales tech space over the last 6 months, since we spent years on a soapbox claiming this is where the world would go. I think 2013 will be for premium what 2009 was for RTB / remnant, in the sense it’s a meaningful foundational year for the growth of a new segment. We’re growing our business very aggressively, and 2013 for us is about turning this momentum into unquestionable category leadership.
The Makegood: John, you are a disruptor entrepreneur at heart working on your third business. What inspired you to found BuyAds.com and isocket?
I’ve been a product/designer/engineer and entrepreneur for a while, and in my past businesses I kept running into situations where I wanted to buy ads directly from a publisher and that process was just way too hard. Over time I developed a vision for how to solve those problems, and I believed in it enough to go do it. I’m driven by seeing this change effected in the world, and as a stubborn entrepreneur I get itchy when no one else is doing it right. So I set off to do it.
The Makegood: John, you follow two principles as a founder: 1) speak the truth, even if your voice shakes and 2) if your work doesn’t make anyone mad, then you’re not doing something worthy enough. Who do you make mad and why is it worth it?
Thankfully foundership is one of the few professions that actually rewards such behavior ; ) Every great innovation faced challenges, naysayers, and people who fear change trying to get in the way. So to do something worthwhile you have to embrace that pushback. With isocket, we’re trying to help weed out some of the really counterproductive behaviors in the premium ad space that hurt more than they help – like the false mental fear that if a buyer places an order digitally instead of through an Excel attachment, that can make a publisher ad sales person feel territorial. The biggest thing restraining worthwhile innovation in this space (innovation that will make everyone better and wealthier) is the irrationality of people themselves. It’s like the horse stable owners who were so afraid of the automobile they missed their opportunity to refit their stables into garages. The good news is that there are very few of those people, and most are starving for the change.
The Makegood: Honored by the White House & US Chamber of Commerce as one of the top entrepreneurs under 30 in the US (2012), what tips can you provide entrepreneurs and startup companies?
Do something meaningful! Building the next daily deals newsletter or another Facebook game is so boring and iterative. Think bigger. Solve real problems that matter. Embrace the fact that you will be wrong, embarrassed, and challenged. Don’t be afraid. If you’re in it for the right reasons, you’re a good person, and you can persevere through what is honestly one of the hardest jobs in the world – you’ll get there.
The Makegood: In your LinkedIn profile, you directly address recruiters, who should not add you unless they are your friends or they have placed someone with you before. How do you find and keep great talent?
Going to start sounding like a broken record, but do something meaningful! The best people in the world want to be challenged and effect real innovation, and will naturally align with the most meaningful missions. I honestly think we have the best early stage team in ad tech and I’m incredibly proud and humbled by them. And they joined because the mission was worth their talents, not because we throw money around or hand out job applications with free tacos.
Regarding startup recruiters – there are some excellent ones out there, but as a whole I loathe that industry. I think the value they create is often less than the value they extract. It’s a mountain of gamesmanship, shady tactics, and spam. Recruiters call our toll free support line asking for an engineer by name, saying they are an old high school friend with an emergency – when in fact they are trying to poach. We’ve even been threatened with mafia style “protection” rackets, where if we don’t pay up they will spread rumors about our business to the candidate pool.
The Makegood: Thanks, John.