Kean Graham – CEO Interview

Kean Graham

When did you know you wanted to start your own company?

I originally fell in love with the digital 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’m 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 have had the most fulfilling time of my life and it finally clicked:

I will work and travel when I want, where I want.

I have to start a digital business to enable this autonomous lifestyle.

What was your original idea for this company, and are you still doing that (or did you pivot, if so, what is the new focus and why)?

When I started MonetizeMore, my goal was to increase revenues measurably for businesses via digital means. This could have been done via SEO, social media management, UI/UX, CRO, ad optimization and/or many other ways.

I improved my skills for each and then decided to use my old employer as a case study.
I looked at their revenues and realized the majority of them come from Google AdSense. Google had a monopoly over their ad inventory. Then it hit me, all I have to do is increase the demand for their ad inventory and the price for each ad impression would go up based on simple economics (Supply stays the same and demand goes up). When this is applied to 100,000,000s of ad impressions per month, that can lead to huge ad revenue increases.

For example, with AdSense as the only bidder, they could bid whatever they want. Let’s just say their average RPM (Revenue per thousand ad impressions) bid is $0.50. After I came in and optimized their ad inventory auction by adding new bidders, they had a much more competitive auction. For one ad impression, AdSense could have bid $0.50 but Facebook could have bid $0.40, OpenX $0.6 and Rubicon $0.70. If they continued to run just AdSense, they wouldn’t have access to those higher bids per ad impression. In this example, the publisher would get a $0.20 higher bid. If the same bid lift happened for 100,000,000 ad impressions in a month, their revenues would grow from $50,000 to $70,000.

This was a pain point my old employer had, that they didn’t realize at the time. I offered them a no-risk contract where I would only charge a percentage of the increased ad revenues. They willfully accepted and I was able to pioneer the model that we still use today. Over many months of ad optimization, I was able to increase their ad revenues by millions!

How long did it take you to finally take the leap, and what was it that pushed you over the fence?

When I came back to Canada I was set to build my skills and come up with my big business idea. To do this, I made websites and tried out affiliate marketing. I grew important digital marketing and basic coding skills to bolster my capabilities and come up with that big idea.

A big reason for my early success was that I was malleable in that we focused on results and less about the internal business early on. My goal was to achieve measurable revenue increases for businesses. This was originally going to be achieved by the below offerings:

– Social media optimization
– Analytics consultation
– Ad inventory optimization
– Customer usage model optimization

I quickly found out that the greatest opportunity to grow measurable revenues was via ad inventory optimization. Rather than sticking with all offerings I focused on the offering that got the best results and only targeted online businesses that earned revenues via display advertising. It was this business focus that led me to starting my business.

Who inspired you to pursue your dream, and why do you think they believed in you?

I couldn’t say it was anyone in particular that inspired me. I was more internally driven to enable a dream lifestyle and I knew how to get there.

Who is your favorite mentor and why?

I learned a lot of important business lessons early on from a business consultant involved in many self-employment seminars that I took. I still use some of the core business principles today that he taught me.

I remember how shrewd he would be during the business plan phase. While it was tough at the time, looking back, people can be quite vague and fluffy with their business plans which leads to low quality execution. He would do a great job not accepting this and resting till every detail of our business plan was specifically explained so our business plans would be more executable.

What was the hardest thing about starting your company, and what did you do to make it through the first stage?

The hardest thing was getting the first success story to gain legitimacy and traction. I was lucky enough to get my first client in the 2nd month and increase their revenues in a measurable way early in the contract.

What has been the hardest lesson to learn?

The success of my first client project was huge. It changed the trajectory of their company. They went from laying people off to hiring people very quickly with their expanded budget. They were ecstatic of the dramatic revenue increase, however, they were not happy about paying a company owned by a former employee 3 – 4x more than they did when I was earning a salary with them.

As a result, they negotiated a lower flat retainer. I learned to represent my company as something bigger than myself and to make sure to diversify clients early on to increase my negotiation power. Something as simple as representing the company as “we” rather than “I” could make a world of difference on how they think about a company which governs their decisions related to that company. I could have avoided that re-negotiation and drop in commissions with that simple change in my communication.

What has been the most amazing thing you have experience while running this company?

The overall experience of traveling the World while growing my business has been the most amazing. On top of that, I’ve been able to enable each of our team members to live the same type of lifestyle and take their lives into their own hands.

What is the weirdest thing you have experienced while running this company, and how did you react to it?

A digital nomad friend and I were on a safari in Okavango, Botswana during our digital nomad trip about a week ago. We were lucky enough to come across a pride of mother lions and their cubs feasting on a water buffalo they killed the previous night. The driver brought us dangerously close to them. As we got close, the lions stared right at us and got into pouncing position. One even got up and starting pacing.

We knew if we made any sudden movements or sounds, we could become lion lunch. I had my phone in my pocket and I couldn’t remember if the ringer was off. I was one impromptu client call away from being the next kill for that pride. Luckily, I had no calls during those moments that felt like hours and we got away safely.

I learned that there’s a time for business and there’s a time to be in the now. That was a time to be in the now and having any rings or buzzes could have messed things up in an even bigger way. Since then, I have turned all rings and buzzes off my phone unless I’m working and expecting a call.

What is the best decision you’ve ever made while running this company?

To commit to being location independent.

What is the biggest mistake you made while running this company, and why do you think it happened?

Since the beginning of 2013, we had a partnership with Google where we had the keys to their most powerful advertising platform for display advertising demand for publishers. It was exclusive to very large websites or partners like MonetizeMore. As a result, we received a lot of demand from publishers to become a client and get access to the best performance ad exchange in the industry. This partnership dramatically grew our business.

In January 2014, our largest client received a spam attack. One of their competitors sent a plethora of traffic that were meant to click on their ads multiple times with the purpose of getting them banned on Google. They were successful because this publisher was getting huge amounts of traffic and they sent such a huge attack that it created an investigation on our master account with Google. About three weeks later, that investigation resulted in a whole master account ban. When you’re banned by Google, that means that they revoke all unpaid ad revenues. The unpaid ad revenues were all our revenues for December and January. That was the highest gross revenue months we’ve ever had. $2.2 million and 99% of our revenue for those months were revoked.

Since then we bounced back via injection of personal funds into the business to make sure everyone was still paid. We learned from this by implementing the below:

– Fraud traffic detection and suppression
– Very stringent site screening
– Diversification of our revenue streams

As a result, we have grown the business sustainably and we’ve never been stronger. We also were able to strengthen our partnership with Google to become a Google Certified Publishing Partner.

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your company?

As MonetizeMore has always been a remote business, we have been able to continue on our upward path with a business as usual mentality. Our competitors on the other hand have struggled to adapt to a more flexible work lifestyle setup that allows their employees to work remotely and avoid human contact during the Covid19 crisis. In the past month, MonetizeMore has been relatively more responsive, performed better and more reliable compared to the alternatives that ad monetized publishers tend to choose from. As a result, our sales conversion rates have increased this month.

Thanks to the location freedom that we offer our team, they are safer during this horrible crisis. They are also less distracted because they can continue to work without having to make any major adjustments and can have peace of mind knowing that they have strong job security.

What keeps you passionate about your company?

The thing that gets me excited every workday is the same thing that got me excited since day 1: Empower Ad Monetized Publishers. That is why MonetizeMore exists and I still passionately believe in it. While we have empowered thousands of publishers over the past 10 years, we still have a lot to go. In order to empower more publishers, we need to become more scalable. That’s where technology comes in!

It’s the tech that we are building that gets me most excited. It hogs the majority of my free thinking. The potential of the technology we’re building is great on the per publisher basis but is absolutely massive since it also eliminates any restrictions on the number of publishers MonetizeMore could work with at any given time. By the time we release the PubGuru platform, MonetizeMore’s potential reach will infinitely grow.

It’s the two aspects of being able to empower each ad monetized publisher more and be able to empower more ad monetized publishers at any one time that’s gets me pumped for each work day. With that said, it takes years to get to that point, and there’s no point where we will stop evolving. I take inspiration from the journey rather than the destination.

What daily routine have you developed to help you take care of your mind, body, and soul?

I follow the below three to maximize my daily routine:

– Increments: On a weekday I’ll do three increments of 2 – 4 hours. In between, I’ll do something active or social so that when I start a new increment of work, I am refreshed and ready to go.

– Personalized Schedule: I don’t work when people think I should work. I work when I am most alert and I produce my best work (Late night).

– Morning Bliss: After you wake up, give yourself at least 30 minutes to not look at emails, Skype or Slack. Otherwise, this can be a stressful way to start your day wrong.

What one thing would you like people to take away from this interview?

Location independence is a competitive advantage.

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