The world of online advertising can be convoluted and complex, making it challenging for advertisers, agencies and publishers to track campaigns. MakeGood Software, a three-year-old startup located in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, is looking to help companies make better sense of the data and eliminate bulky spreadsheets in the process. The 4-person online data management startup launched a public version of its service earlier this month, following tests with both big and small customers over the past year. It is entering an arena where we’ve seen some consolidation in the past year, including Seattle’s AdXpose which sold to comScore for $22 million and Bellevue’s Adometry which sold to Click Forensics for an undisclosed sum.
We chatted with founder Jeff Coon, the former director of ad sales at CarDomain.com, for the latest installment of Startup Spotlight to get an inside look at MakeGood.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “MakeGood’s online service simplifies data management and reporting for online advertising companies. These companies need to download data from many different sources just to produce an invoice or monitor how the ads on their site are delivering, and whether they may lose revenue due to site traffic, technical issues or ad campaigns competing for the same ad inventory. MakeGood compiles this reporting automatically and enables our customers to better manage their businesses.”
Inspiration hit us when: “I managed ad sales and operations at CarDomain.com. As our ad sales began closing larger deals, our operations team struggled to compile all this data then generate reports and forecasts. We had one order lose $40,000 in a single month simply because we didn’t have the cycles or tools to monitor our ad delivery data from all these different sources. I talked to a lot of other companies and found they had similar issues, but there simply weren’t good tools on the market. Now we’re building the tools we needed ourselves.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap? “A great team of angel investors are coming together in our round right now. We’re very lean and focused on doing more with less, but we’re raising funds now to grow our team and build awareness as we go to market.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Our own first-hand knowledge of the pain. Second would be having heard from many of our target customers how they wish they were managing their businesses today.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Validating our ideas with as many people in the industry as possible very early on. We found nearly 50 companies who were happy to discuss their pain, what tools they dream of having, and if or how much they might pay. Many of these discussions led to our initial prototype implementations, and amazing feedback. The time invested in customer development very early on has shaped every decision we’ve made.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “We got too big before we were ready and imploded: last year we offered our initial prototype product to too many companies, and the prototype was eventually overwhelmed by the amount of data we were processing. We went through the pain of informing these companies that we were going to re-architect our core logic to handle the massive data we were compiling for them — this cost us several prospective customers. We found some smart people to help us then went back to the drawing board and systematically re-architected our entire service. The end results couldn’t be better: now we’re using several hundred fewer servers each evening and found a few other quantum leaps in performance while expanding our functionality. We’ve got a few scars, but we’re far better off for them.”
Our world domination strategy starts when: “Companies in the online advertising space begin to question how they can improve their processes and what tools they can provide massive value to their ad operations teams.”
Rivals should fear us because: “We’ve been part of several startups previously which have succeeded in becoming market leaders. We know the ad operations marketspace and we’re going to grow MakeGood into the market leader.”
We’re truly unique because: “We have competitors, but what sets us apart is the accuracy and completeness of our product. We also take a great deal of pride in working with our prospective customers and clients to provide them a complete, well thought out solution — our flexibility and service have proven to be key in converting accounts from our competitors.
The iggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Growing from prototype to scalable, reliable, tested app.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Get out of the building and talk to your customers. If they’re not validating they have the pain you’re addressing, validating your proposed solution and debating how much they might pay for it then you don’t know if you have a market or not. Know this before you begin building out your idea.”