I would love to focus on the problems of education in underprivileged societies. I wasn’t a big believer in education growing up, and I took my ability to have a solid education for granted. I still have issues with the lack of practical applications in education that are devoid in public schools and also many private schools. I think that we can make big changes if we stay focused on building educational foundations and awareness for the importance of things like managing our natural resources or the impact that a person may have on a global level at the smallest level in those societies.
As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Hank Frecon.
He is CEO and co-founder of Source Digital, pioneering the next generation of advertising and commerce technology. Source offers a revolutionary technology that is reinventing advertising by activating brands and commerce companies on content and publisher partners by integrating them into organic viewer engagement at any moment in the content. Frecon and his co-founders have been in stealth development of this game-changing tech for 7 years, which has already been awarded 7 patents with 6 more pending! Source Digital’s revolutionary approach is a new era in advertising, offering the first seamless, in-video consumer attribution and purchasing processes that continue to engage the end-user while delivering substantially increased revenue. Today, Frecon’s technology enables multi-billion dollar entities and small businesses alike to fully leverage sales funnels by introducing opportunities for product purchase at just the right moment in a user’s journey, completely agnostic to any device or screen.
Frecon’s extensive record of successful leadership includes a stable tenure of executing on building businesses and divisions for early-stage initiatives and carrying them to profitability and maturity. In one case, when entering the VPN Market, Frecon co-developed an innovative model for growth, quickly scaling the company from 200K to 24M per year in contract value within just eight months, making it the third-largest private network/VPN provider at the time between AT&T & Sprint. Subsequently, he contributed to the creation of one of the first end-to-end Video-on-Demand models for the consumer markets for companies such as Verizon Avenues, Accenture, and DiStream. Frecon also successfully drove the expansion of SAVVIS into new territories and ventures, including entering the Latin American market, along with defining and building SAVVIS’ Media & Entertainment vertical, including leading teams affiliated with various M&A activities. In addition, he has served as a strategic tech consultant to multinational media conglomerates like CBS Corp and Simon & Schuster.
Frecon then went on to lead business affairs for Agnostic Development Corporation, a Media & Entertainment software company focused on compression and distribution technologies for customers, along with its owned and operated companies. In concert with his for-profit initiatives, Frecon also successfully led digital support and technology contributions for the Sundance Film Festival’s short film program. Frecon then moved on to co-found RadiantGrid, a next-generation video compression technology company where he led business, finance, and operations in the role of Managing Director, accelerating the operation from zero to millions in profits within three years and subsequently exiting at a significant multiple over revenue. During his time at the company, RadiantGrid supported some of the largest M&E brands, including NBC Universal and NHL in the early days of pioneering digital video compression and distribution efforts to emerging VoD outlets and Owned & Operated web properties. His team also executed a multi-million dollar contract with PBS, coordinating a successful collaboration between the non-profit broadcasting network and the AMWA to develop a new industry standard for meta data. After the sale of the company to Wohler, Frecon stayed on for a few years to oversee the transition of the business into the Wohler global organization.
Outside the office, Frecon continues his family’s third-generation farming legacy at Frecon Cidery, one of Pennsylvania’s premier cideries he helped to establish in 2008. Frecon’s operation features 100% estate-grown apples from his father and master cultivator, Henry Frecon. In his spare time, he enjoys assisting with another of his start-up ventures — Boyertown-based nano-brewery The Other Farm Brewing Company — in addition to spending time with his wife and daughter, Sephie, and enjoying as much time as he can outdoors. Learn more about Hank Frecon and Source Digital’s innovative media marketing solutions at SourceDigital.net. Source Digital: Media’s New Currency.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
As an Environmental Science and Geography Major at Slippery Rock University, technology was not really at the forefront of my initial career path. However, as a kid, I always liked tinkering and building things: radios, rocket ships, etc. In the late 90’s, I was getting ready to graduate from college and a few of my friends coaxed me down to Washington, D.C. to come work with them. “Silicone Alley” was emerging on the east coast and big internet companies and start-ups were the hot new thing. I moved down to D.C. and got into the internet at its early stages. I soon realized it was a premium that would one day become a commodity. I started thinking of building things that the internet would layer up and serve and realized that video would be one of those things. That’s pretty much where I got my start. I became very interested in video and audio communications over the internet. I started working in early stage endeavors at Savvis to expand their market share, particularly targeting video companies that wanted to exist on the internet. This was the early days, we were streaming, all pre-Netflix. At that point, I learned the value of tech start-ups and I began to develop skill sets in the business and engineering zones- all of the facets that you need to be a modern tech CEO in today’s landscape. I eventually took those skills and co-founded another company, which had a successful exit. I got a taste of what that could be like, enjoyed the process and here we are today at Source Digital.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The most interesting story for me would have been 9–1–1. I was in my 20’s and had taken an assignment that ended up being successful with a new product that we launched. With the advent of that product, we quickly became the number three VPN Provider. At that point, the executives asked me what I would like to do next. I asked them what their hardest problems were and they said that they had some issues with the Latin American and Caribbean market. I thought that sounded fun, so I headed to Brazil to interview a new country manager for the company. During the interview, the news was playing behind us in Portuguese. All of a sudden we started seeing the footage of what was happening in New York with the Twin Towers. After the second plane hit, the gentleman said, “Wow, that’s a crazy accident.” I said…”I don’t think that’s an accident. Why don’t we wrap it up for now. I have some things to figure out and get home.” I couldn’t get back to the States, but I was able to get to Peru, where my wife-to-be lived. Through that process, I was able to spend more time with her while I was in the country. I guess you could say that 9–1–1 was a catalyst to my later years with my wife.
Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
Right off the bat, there are two types of people who need to be helped. If we value the qualitative aspects of the video industry that we have come to know and love, we must make sure that there is a healthy revenue plan that allows these video companies to compete in the internet generation. They have been left by the wayside and that is largely due to a shift. What the internet does well is create a rewards value for brands and marketers on real time audience engagement. From a video technology company’s point of view, their world was traditionally measured on success by simply getting views. Views aren’t good enough. Views have to be able to measure something and turn into measurement values. They have to turn into engagement understanding. That is where Source stepped up. We need to bring a social media, e-commerce, and a googling mindset to the video itself. This will add value to the consumer, who is already looking for these things. They’re already going to Google, they are already going to Amazon based on trends or things they see in the video. We wanted to make that be able to happen in real time. We wanted to make it measurable for the content owners who are spending huge dollars. If the world emerges where content is quantitative, because there is no revenue strategy to make it worthwhile to produce and be in existence, we will live in a very un-creative world.
The medium of video is arguably the most powerful communications medium and it’s survivability from the 1940’s and how it has evolved over time. Projections are that it will be 82% of the internet by next year and it will be 90% of 5G traffic by 2028. The medium of video is not going away. It is just a method that we have to embrace, create quality standards and make sure the revenue stays up for it.
On a consumer side, consumers need a democratic landscape. They don’t need one monopoly being their product journey. They don’t need just one place or destination for their interests. When a monopoly exists, it’s not god for anyone. It restricts the ability for the consumer to have relationships with their brands, it forces them to pass through gateways where likes and favorites are being measured around brands, where they can’t have an understanding of what is organic and unto themselves, where they have to be told/taught by whomever is cool or hip. That creates a flat universe. What Source does is monetizing in-video and creating contextual relationships with the viewer through storytelling. This intersects the moment in their life where something is of value. Finding that relationship with the brand is a very important journey.
How do you think this might change the world?
I think changing the world is fairly straightforward. I am not going to say that the environment is going to fully recover because of Source, I’m not going to say that we will no longer have a divided country because of Source. I will say that from a technology perspective and a consumerism perspective, people can look at this medium of video that is so important in their lives and find a whole new relationship to it that they have been coveting for a while. It is not just about buying something in the moment, it’s about tagging that moment and sharing that moment. I think about my sister’s experiences in her Costume Design career, when she brought to my attention people reaching out to her to get information about the clothes she was putting on the screen in Hollywood. A story that resonated with me was an oncologist who reached out to her and wanted to buy one of Sookie’s pink hoodies from a particular episode of “True Blood”. The oncologist was not looking for herself. She was looking for one of her young patients who was a huge fan of the show. She wanted her patient to have the exact sweatshirt that Sookie wore. It is that kind of experiential relationship that we want to bring to consumers. We can put them in direct contact with the passions and inspirations that they get from the video.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
There are risks with any new technology. We have to watch trends and we have to look at the pros and cons associated with this new technology. No one would have imagined that a preying on our narcissistic desires to be rewarded would lead to one of the greatest advertising mediums in modern history. At the same time, dealing with audience relationships in real time can also be on the public side of good things. You are giving people instant access to countless amounts of information. In a post Covid-19 landscape, it is very important for companies to have brand-safe relationships with the consumer and it is important for consumers to have a trusted relationship with their entertainment and their brands. These worlds are closely intersected. The positive is that we don’t have to have intermediaries for the viewers and their relationship with their content owners. We don’t have to have intermediaries with their brands and the products they love. Source is showcasing “I am watching something that I think is really great and now I want to learn more. I want to acquire something in the video or find out where they are in that movie and I want to go there.” I would much more equate Source to a public good, like Google than I would to some of the social media platforms and their value to or lack of value to humanity. If I think of what could go wrong, I think about user data and privacy/protection. We are excited about the new standards that are happening in protection and with user privacy, like the GDPR in Europe and legislation in the US. When people say that they don’t want to do Covid testing because of “big brother” tracing and I don’t want big brother monitoring me. I think…”Have you thought about that smart phone that you carry in your pocket?” There was a pixel installed and the minute you logged into your Facebook account, the advertisers were finding out your interests and able to talk to you right now. You may not want those ads, but you don’t have a choice. That is a problem. If anything, Source Digital is part of the next generation of consumer and internet engagement relationships. We are giving consumers more of that relationship and securing that relationship between them, their brands and their entertainment value proposition.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
There was and it was my sister, who is also a Co-Founder of Source. What I realized through her work is that viewers want real time engagement with their content. I also think about our journey to move the standard of video. When I say “our” I am referring to people like myself and the boutique companies in this space. You can find us by looking at The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) or the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC). We operate in a world where we have a certain set of knowledge, we speak a certain language, we have an underlying knowledge of the underlying architecture of video and the internet. When we moved video into the format of being internet capable, we forgot about something important. We forgot about the human relationship. When we think about things that make anything that was invented on the internet valuable to a brand or a content owner it is because they can help to measure the audience in real time. In regard to video, we retro-fit it where the most advanced things we originally thought about were subtitle information. We thought it would be cool to have multiple languages or a great way to overload the viewer with movie options or recommendations based on your viewing history. The reality is that the internet is much more dynamic than that. Through my sister’s work, I noticed the oncologist’s quest to help her patient or on “Mad Men” when the show was at its peak and Banana Republic created a Mad Men inspired clothing line. Culture is currency and video is a huge essence of what we do in culture. There are probably very few fashion designers who would have forecasted the comeback of a skinny tie, but Mad Men pioneered that. That makes you think about the impact of a video on our lives. The medium itself that we created where we move from the pre-internet days to the internet days, we originally forgot about those value propositions. We had that breakthrough with Source. People care about moments, they care about information in real time and we need to make that available to them.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
We need to get the world of publishers to realize that they still have the power. They still have the relationship with their user. Let’s think about machine learning and AI. When you start to create a monopolized infrastructure based on machine learning and AI, you start to have a non-democratic method method for how consumer relationships should be understood or should be groomed. Grooming consumer relationships is happening right now. Anybody who is fighting for existence in the world today, whether it is a brand, a publisher or a content owner is dis-serviced by these monopolies. Let’s say that I have developed great new content and I am very creative with a brilliant creative team. I put all of this energy into breaking new boundaries and creating good content. Then machine learning happens and I can only publish that content in some dystopian world where only three people let me publish that journey. I have to think about what happens when machine learning starts to take my ideas and intellectual capital. I have been intermediated so the only winner is that monopoly who controls my audience and controls the relationship with my viewer that originally found me because of what I created.
Now let’s put that to a brand. You are a brand that is trying to develop a relationship with a consumer, get your product understood, get it heard. What happens when you put all of your energy into these social landscapes and machine learning controls the relationship to the consumer. It is not in their best interest for you to get the business. It is in their best interest to make sure that they can re-groom your audience to find brands like yours. You lose because you worked really hard as that inventor to create your products and develop your brand and put that identity on your product that made it valuable in the first place.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
Our technology is so easy that we can send potential clients one of their own posted YouTube videos with our tech integrated. It proves how quickly and simply we can roll out, and that we don’t need any actual video files or permissions to get it done.
We have been focused on working to do a good job by delivering solid, efficient experiences for clients and picking up traffic organically. That has been the focus. We have recently partnered with a fantastic PR and Marketing Team as well.
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?
In my journey, I have constantly strived to learn, listen and evolve. My dad is a huge influence. He is always driving at something and never gives up. No matter how tough a situation happens to be, he sticks it out and stays focused on achieving a goal. My grandfather was another big influence. He taught me resiliency, pivoting, business dynamics, always seeing the glass half full in any equation and how to create a business opportunity out of that situation. My Grandfather grew up during the great depression, penniless. He built every single cent of wealth himself with two very successful businesses, both with our family farm as well as in real estate.
Professionally, I always remember Jack Finlayson, the President of Savvis. Jack was no nonsense and never got caught up in company politics. He always stayed focused on the goal. Through him, I learned a key trait. I asked him how he kept track of all of the tasks needed to be done in a day. He answered, “In my life, there are two types of things to worry about. Things that I need to know and things that I have to take action on.” It is those two types of things that drive my success.” Darcy Lorincz taught me how to deal with remote strategies and workforces. He taught me how to build companies for big visions. Those are some of my greatest mentors. There are many others, such as Rob McCormick, the CEO of Savvis. Rob taught me engineering, executing on vision, how important tech is to a vision. The lessons I learned from all of these people taught me how to solve complicated issues and learn from difficult events. The biggest lesson that I learned is that when you are starting a mid-growth company, one thing to always focus on is how to be able to work yourself out of a job. You have to be agile enough to go into any other area and be able to solve problems and move up the chain. You need to teach and figure out how to get somebody else to be able to execute the job. That will free you up to grow and build the next thing.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I try to bring my expertise into areas and organizations that may not have the money or resources that I may have. For example, I volunteered to work with the economic revitalization initiatives in the small town where I grew up. The program was called Building a Better Boyertown (BBB). I ran the economic revitalization program, then took over operations and eventually became the Vice President of the program. That was a great way for me to contribute to a local community development. In building this program, we started a town festival called Pickfest to help support the small businesses in the area. The other thing that we recognized was that the town needed a Brewery. Nobody else stepped up to do it, so we did it. We built a fun music venue and brew pub in the center of town that is thriving today.
I also have interest in my family business, Frecon Farms. I began working with nonprofits and became the President and Founder of the PA Cider Guild which represents small craft cideries and helps to get them into the mainstream markets. Wherever there is an underdog and I can help the situation thrive with knowhow, I try to step up and take action.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1). If I had understood the value of engineering, physics, the sciences and their practical applications in life, I would have paid a lot more attention to these subjects in school.
2) People are complex. Managing human dynamics in a company is not something you can look at and just solve quickly. You have to consider the long range dynamics in company culture.
3) Being bootstrapped and building a company on that methodology is great. However, it is very hard to scale in today’s tech environment. It is important to have the right amount of capital to create a proportionate reward for the amount of time you have to execute. The goal of the company is very important.
4) Make sure that you have a strong operating partner in whatever you do.
5) Make sure that you always have a clear conversation with your spouse and children and set the expectation for the lack of time that you ultimately have while you are on these building exercises. Make sure that they are ok with it and understanding of it.
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 would love to focus on the problems of education in underprivileged societies. I wasn’t a big believer in education growing up, and I took my ability to have a solid education for granted. I still have issues with the lack of practical applications in education that are devoid in public schools and also many private schools. I think that we can make big changes if we stay focused on building educational foundations and awareness for the importance of things like managing our natural resources or the impact that a person may have on a global level at the smallest level in those societies. We need educators to teach that just because a parents/grandparent or lack thereof might have had an issue of not being educated, you don’t have to carry that burden and you can succeed. I think we can be a much better world if we went upstream and instead of trying to solve stop gap problems, start asking the question: How do we get back to the source where the issue started? We need to start putting energy at the source of the problem.
For the more educated areas, I would love to focus on making everyone purchase food from less than 250 miles away and within an annual cycle. If people started thinking about their food supply and caring about it at a local level, they would better understand the waste and pollution that is happening on a daily basis. If people had to actually think about their local food supply, they would see the world differently.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Hank, you don’t always get to do what you want to do in life. Sometimes you are going to have to learn to like what you do. “ — that is a quote from my Dad. At first it sounds like a hard knocks quote, but it is actually a Zen quote. If you can find joy in every aspect and learn from every part of your life, it makes the difficult and unpleasant things you have to do something that you can enjoy and appreciate.
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 🙂
Video is the #1 consumed media format in the world — the most dominant form of outward messaging our society has ever encountered in modern history. The internet made that so, but the commercial usage of video is exactly as it has been for 80 years. You start a video, you see an ad, then the content. Maybe there’s a commercial break in the middle. Watching a video on Hulu is essentially the same experience as watching it on a TV set in 1965. It got left behind and can not compete like all other things can compete on the internet today. It can not manage its audience in real time. It needs a solution to make it interactive. We need to bring it to the forefront of a public good, just like Google is when you look for information or Amazon when you are looking for a product. Video is the best vehicle to reach out and connect with the viewer. Traditionally this has been a one-way communication. Source Digital will come in and optimize that video to make it interactive in a way that lets it compete against social media giants in all facets. It allows brands and retailers seeking monetization to measure audience behavior at a level that currently only exists on social media or search engine strategies.
How can our readers follow you on social media? We are a “blank label” service provider, and we don’t market directly to consumers. We also believe that our video solutions help brands beat the social media monetization challenge. Therefore, we mostly rely on LinkedIn to keep up with our partners, and we help them utilize their social media in a bigger way.
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Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.