Sean Bradley of AudioEye: “Keep your head on a swivel”

Keep your head on a swivel. When you are the last one leaving the office and walking out to a vast, empty parking lot night after night, be vigilant, but don’t get discouraged. If it were easy, everyone would do it. In my experience, turning ideas into a successful business was incredibly hard. But if […]

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Keep your head on a swivel. When you are the last one leaving the office and walking out to a vast, empty parking lot night after night, be vigilant, but don’t get discouraged. If it were easy, everyone would do it. In my experience, turning ideas into a successful business was incredibly hard. But if you keep at it and you never say die (and with a bit of luck), your dreams can come true. Believe.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs I had the pleasure of interviewing Sean Bradley, Senior Vice President of Customer Advocacy at AudioEye.

Throughout his career, Sean Bradley has been recognized as an innovative leader in technology. From leading international development teams to producing global webcasting technologies, Sean is both strategic and tactical. He is experienced in the planning, development, and productization of cloud-based software applications. A true technology entrepreneur, in addition to AudioEye, Inc., Sean has co-founded multiple technology companies including Kino Digital, LLC and Kino Communications, LLC.

Sean has track record of bringing to market timely digital platforms and products, which have been relied upon by some of the largest and most influential businesses in the world, including IBM, Kraft, ADP, J&J, the FCC, the SSA, among countless others. After designing & architecting the second-generation Augme AD Life Mobile Marketing Platform, Augme acquired, integrated, and expanded Hipcricket, bolstering it’s mobile marketing & ad product offering and taking annual revenue from 300k dollars to 28 Million dollars (FY ’13). As Principal Solutions Engineer at Hipcricket, Sean architected several mobile marketing implementations across a variety of industries and for many of America’s brand-name leaders including MGM Resorts Intl., Lincoln Motor Company, Clorox, and several others.

Sean obtained his BA from Arizona International College at the University of Arizona, graduating Summa Cum Laude and with highest academic distinction for all eight undergraduate semesters. In 2005, he was recognized by ASU’s WP Carey School of Business as a leader in his field.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Approximately 20 years ago, my brother and I were among the throes of early entrepreneurship and working on growing our first company. At some point, he showed up to the office and shared that his eye doctor had diagnosed him with a degenerative disease in his right eye. We didn’t know what that might mean for him, but it did spark some important questions. It set us down this path of learning about the different ways individuals with blindness and other disabilities use a computer. Today, AudioEye is publicly traded on the Nasdaq and services tens of thousands of businesses striving to make the web a better place for individuals with disabilities.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

As young entrepreneurs, we were always inclined to bring our friends into the fold. It’s hard not knowing who you can trust and I think it’s natural to want to make some of your first employees people who you know, people who you’ve had time to evaluate, even if from the sidelines. In our earliest ventures, our initial seed investor was the grandfather of one of the founders. Friends and family rounds were always fully subscribed. Our first hires were people we had grown up with. All of this can add some fun and comfort to what is surely to become a wild and stressful ride. But it certainly increases the stakes and the stress level. It goes without saying, as you mature your ideas into a viable business it can grow increasingly difficult to keep everyone on happy street. I’ve seen many relationships sour and become untenable. At the same time and all that said, I’d say the most rewarding thing and what probably got me through the toughest of times has been those special foundational relationships with those closest to me that only blossomed with the growing pressure — those that stayed in the trenches through thick and thin. The absolute best part of this past 20 years as an entrepreneur has been to tackle these challenges alongside those who were friends or even family long before they were colleagues. But do take caution.

Can you tell us about the cutting-edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on?

At AudioEye, our long-standing mission is to eradicate every barrier to digital access for individuals with disabilities. We are pushing the envelope when it comes to the reaches of AI to identify and fix issues of accessibility.

How do you think that will help people?

AudioEye’s technology assists people in three primary ways.

First and foremost, for our client’s site visitors, regardless of their individual abilities or the assistive technology they might rely on to navigate the digital world, we want to make sure they are provided an optimal user experience — one that is equitable and ensures consistent, reliable access to site content and functionality. Everything we do to advance our technological capabilities is intended to benefit individuals with disabilities.

Second, for our clients — the businesses that look to AudioEye to solve their compliance needs — the more we can do with automation, the faster we can deploy a compliant user experience and the more affordable it becomes to deliver our services, which is a key driver in making accessibility accessible to businesses and organizations of all sizes.

Lastly, as we are able to do more with automation, it affords our team of experts to focus their time and efforts on issues that may not be addressed through a strictly automated solution, like many of the problematic solutions offered by our competitors. It also provides us more insights that can be shared with our clients as we collaborate with them to improve accessibility within their design, development, and content creation process. This allows AudioEye to provide our clients with a compliance solution that mitigates their compliance risk and goes further than any other solution in the market to maximize the negotiation leverage they might need when addressing claims of non-compliance, which are rampant and can be very costly, frustrating, and time consuming for businesses these days.

How do you think this might change the world?

For many, the web is largely broken. As a society, we have been too slow to fix this issue and getting content creators to understand and prioritize digital accessibility. For example, Digital Accessibility is hardly (if at all) taught within education institutions, including technical trade schools. Our technology accelerates the path to vastly improving the accessibility of the broken web. In the age of Covid, as we all rely even more on digital access for our schooling, paying bills, online banking, and fulfilling countless other key functions, getting this solved is more important than ever.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Not sure this would classify as a Black Mirror scenario, but we do have a situation playing out in our industry that is exposing some of the risks that can come when we get ahead of our skis when looking for technology to solve difficult problems. We’ve seen businesses making an attempt to enter the digital accessibility compliance market touting their automation-only solution as the savior for businesses needing to fulfill their compliance obligations.

In reality, these solutions don’t do enough to meet accessibility standards and businesses are left scrambling when they’ve adopted these solutions only to find themselves dealing with litigation without any good answers to address the claims asserted against them. As some of these solutions have become fairly prolific, we are seeing a justified groundswell of resentment for certain providers.

I’m happy to report that there are completely viable solutions like ours that tackle the problem in all the right ways. As we see it, businesses have two options. They can train their designers and developers to learn all the ins and outs of digital accessibility, keep track of evolving standards, test using assistive technologies (AT), fix issues to accommodate a lofty number of disability use-cases and AT/browser combinations, among other critical steps necessary to fulfill their compliance obligations. Alternatively, if they don’t have the time and resources to do it on their own, they have AudioEye. Let’s face it, whether you are a creative type or a rock star developer, you probably weren’t born to do accessibility. That’s where we come in. That’s why we’re here. Across our growing networks of clients, our solution removes billions of digital access barriers from the web, every single day.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

Yes, and it came from listening to end-user feedback.

We presented the AudioEye business plan at a Princeton University competition for young entrepreneurs back in 2001. It’s been 20 years. We were very early within the market, having a clear sense of how the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) was progressing and how it would be inevitable that businesses would need ADA compliance software solutions to help them make their websites accessible. We originally sought out to create a browser-based screen reader. We didn’t fully abandon that approach (keeping true to our desire to provide free assistive tools for everyone), but, having received feedback from end-users and listening to the voice of leaders from within various advocacy groups and agencies, we realized that, in order to have a viable solution, we needed to make websites work with the existing technologies that individuals with disabilities already relied on to navigate their computer’s operating system, including their web browser. This was when we really zeroed-in on our dynamic remediation technology that, today, is trusted by some of the largest and most influential businesses in the world.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

Our continued investment in AI is key. As our automation capabilities continue to advance, our technology will be able to do more and more of the heavy lifting. This will allow AudioEye to offer our solutions at lower costs and with even higher scalability.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

This year we announced a strategic partnership with Neil Patel’s Ubersuggest tool, which helps website owners analyze their performance and fix web issues. AudioEye was an ideal integration for a platform like this because it brings accessibility awareness and breakdowns to website owners while they’re in the process of analyzing and improving their site.

We are also speaking at digital marketing conferences this year. Conferences like this are another ideal platform to share our message of the need for website accessibility directly with some of the digital marketing industry’s most influential practitioners.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

As we were just going to market with some of the initial versions of our remediation technology, one of our earliest critics came to us and gave us a firm (and justified) scolding. We had neglected to make some of our own marketing materials accessible and she wasn’t shy to let us know about it. Dr. Jordan turned out to be an instrumental mentor and consultant for the company. Not only did she help ensure we walk-the-walk when it comes to accessibility, she also really helped us validate our approach and played a pivotal role in those early years of bringing our solutions to market.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

One thing that we’ve done well at AudioEye is to establish a program to get our employees to go through disability and inclusion training and certification. The curriculum covers everything from the history of the ADA, international law, universal design, and sensitivity training. They can go on to get certified through the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP), which we sponsor (pay on their behalf). The material is something they can really hold onto no matter their career path and it’s also a great resume builder. For our engineers, we also sponsor more advanced training that helps accelerate their path to becoming website accessibility subject matter experts. Another skillset and resume builder they can always carry with them throughout their career. I’d encourage all designers, developers and content creators to go through the program at IAAP.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Failure is not binary. When things don’t turn out as you’ve expected, take advantage of the learning opportunity that comes when things end up different from how you may have anticipated or hoped. Fail often, fail fast. Every entrepreneur fails. I can certainly attest to this. How you recover is all that matters.

Just because information has been shared or something has been communicated, doesn’t mean it’s been understood. From updating your team about an important company-wide initiative to promoting a new product feature, take time to ensure that everyone has heard the same thing and they are all singing from the same hymnal. Most importantly, when your leaders aren’t aligned, you shouldn’t expect a coherent message to magically trickle down. This is particularly critical when change is happening fast. If change decisions are happening in a silo, people will get left behind, feelings will get hurt and you may end up having to polish up your job board and seek out new talent when key team members walk out the door.

You might dread the weekends: As an entrepreneur, when you start to find your stride, you may find yourself filled with anxiety leaving the office at the end of the day on Friday. Having to wait two whole days before you get everyone back into the office to get more work done can seem like an eternity. And if it happens to be a long weekend due to a holiday or something, oh man. But take a deep breath. Escape. Recharge. You’ll come back on Monday ready to knock it out of the park.

Keep your head on a swivel. When you are the last one leaving the office and walking out to a vast, empty parking lot night after night, be vigilant, but don’t get discouraged. If it were easy, everyone would do it. In my experience, turning ideas into a successful business was incredibly hard. But if you keep at it and you never say die (and with a bit of luck), your dreams can come true. Believe.

Travelling for business is pure hell: I was once on the same plane for 22 hours.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’ve spent the last 20 years focused on building a business with a central focus on making the web more accessible for individuals with disabilities, a population estimated at 1 billion, globally. We’ve all been there. Fiddling with our devices or a website trying to overcome a tedious bug that is limiting our ability to access some important information or perform a certain function. Imagine if just about every website you went to was riddled with bugs that limited or completely blocked your access. There is still a lot of work to be done. Designers, developers, and content creators must adopt an empathetic mindset. Take time to learn the principles of inclusive design. Prioritizing accessibility will make you better at what you do and will help ensure you never create something exclusive and capable of leaving someone behind.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

At some point within my grandfather’s WWII journal aboard the USS Wakefield, he wrote, “we all bleed the same red.” While the context for his statement was centered on a person’s color or race, this resonates on many levels and we’d all be better off if everyone of us would take these six important words to heart. I’m proud to say that empathy, inclusion, and equality have served as the cornerstone to everything we’ve attempted to create at AudioEye.

Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Give a damn. The Web is broken and we are out here fixing it. Check out NASDAQ: AEYE and join the fight to make the web a better place for individuals with disabilities!

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