Accountability will not only serve the advertisers who are paying the ultimate price, but the thousands of people in the digital advertising industry who are winning at the expense of those who are doing the real work and honest work and being penalized.
As a part of my Marketing Strategy Series, I’m talking with my fellow marketing pros at the top of their game to give entrepreneurs and marketers an inside look at proven strategies you might also be able to leverage to grow your business or career. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Matt Wasserlauf.
In 2020, iMedia recognized Matt with the “Conviction Award” for his unwavering belief and conviction in the future of video beyond TV. In 2004, he founded Broadband Enterprises (BBE) to put original content on the web and co-founded the mobile video platform Torrential in 2013. He recently sold Torrential to the television company ITN, the leading unwired broadcast network. In May of 2019, Matt Wasserlauf launched his newest venture Blockboard, a new digital distribution platform service that utilizes Blockchain technology to distribute videos. As advertisers continue to shift their attention towards OTT and non-linear television, Matt Wasserlauf created Blockboard to ensure trust, full transparency, and verification in the shifting advertising landscape.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share a story about a funny or interesting mistake you made and what lesson you learned from that?
I sent myself to Yankees Fantasy Camp for my 50th birthday — a week away from the office, while in the midst of trying to get my most recent start-up Blockboard off the ground. In full uniform and jumping out of the Yankees Stadium dugout, I ran onto the field to take my position when my cell phone rang. The name on the phone was a critical customer calling with a deal. It was a call I had to take. So there I was, running out on the field with my cell phone on my ear and yes, I closed the deal. And it was all captured on film. Later that night, I was called up to the Kangaroo Court in the Yankees Locker Room, led by Judge Mickey Rivers, the famous Yankees centerfielder from the 1977–78 World Series champions. They showed the film to the entire camp and I was shamed. While I did get fined for taking a call while taking the field, I pleaded my case to the court explaining it was a call I had to take. I received no mercy and paid the fine. The lesson learned here is: whatever it takes to close the deal, you’ve just gotta do it!
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
The tipping point in my career was an iMedia event (conference) in 2002 when Rishad Tobaccowala of Publicis gave a keynote address saying he would do the very first online video Upfront and buy on behalf of his clients across the major video networks of which I was one of them. I had left my TV career for Online Video back in 2000 on the bet that online video advertising would catch on. For years I persisted when most everyone told me I was crazy. “Online Video will never work!” they’d say. When Rishad finally validated my belief and placed a multi-million dollar buy with me, I was rewarded. The takeaway is simple: Follow your dreams, persist with passion, and make it happen! I know it’s easier said than done, but I did it and it’s the best advice I give anyone who is willing to listen.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
It’s important to take care of yourself, maintain a healthy balance but try new things. Test. It’s easy in the middle of a pandemic to stop spending and maintain the status quo but that will end up hurting you in the long run. I speak with marketers every single day and I try to keep these friends moving forward. It’s a really tough time and most of these people can easily hide behind the computers at home and let the time run its course. This strategy will end up poorly as too many companies and competitors make pivots, course correct and gain share. It’s critical to first and foremost, take care of yourself. Wear a mask, stay healthy, socially distant and keeping forging forward. Only then, it’s a good next step to make adjustments, optimize, find trusted partners and test. Leverage all the new and exciting technologies out there and look for success. I see a lot of great things happening in streaming video and those marketers that test and learn are making incredible strides in the marketplace.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?
Jim DePalma. He’s the man I’m so grateful for as he’s the one who gave me my chance. 20 years ago, Jim hired me at CBS.com to be his head of digital sales at the venerable TV network. I had been in TV for several years, most recently in television distribution sales at Warner Bros. I had zero experience selling digital advertising. I remember the interview like it was yesterday. Jim, who’s 20 years my elder, pored over my resume probably noticing that I had no digital experience and then asked me, “So you know everything there is to know about the Internet?” I looked at Jim and paused before answering. Of course I knew the answer was no, but thinking to myself that Jim as an older man knew less than I did and in a burst of fabricated confidence, I said “Yes! Yes, I know everything there is to know about the Internet!” At that moment, Jim said “You’re hired” and also mentioned that if I didn’t perform, he may have to hire over me. He never had to.
Consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. Where do you see the future of marketing headed?
I see a lot more skepticism with consumers and marketers who have to become savvier. Social media has changed everything and advertisers have to leverage this platform and create advertising that connects with consumers there. It will take a lot of open-mindedness but those marketers that are excelling here are winning and winning big. Look to these new DTC (direct to consumer) marketers who are making big strides. Companies like Third Love (bras), Allbirds (shoes), and Bombas (socks). These brands were built online and largely on social media. Custom creative, effective tracking and measurement of that creative and an appetite for innovation are the future of marketing and advertisers who test and learn now will win in the future.
What 5 non-intuitive tips would you give other entrepreneurs that you wish someone told you before you started?
- When you make a bad hire, fix it. They taught me to “Ignore Sunk Costs” in graduate school but I never really understood what that meant until I made some bad hires. It’s easy to talk yourself into keeping someone on when they’re clearly not the right person. You’ve gone through the entire process of hiring someone, introducing them to your co-workers, maybe customers and it’s hard to remove them once they’re in. But you have to. It’s something no one ever told me, but I’ve learned the hard way over the years. The sooner you take care of it, the better off you’ll be.
- Take care of yourself. I always put my company ahead of my own needs and I looked like it. I was obese, out of shape, unhealthy, and tired. It was only after I sold my second company that I learned to put my health first. I wish I learned that a long time ago, but I share it here now. Health comes first.
- Don’t take venture capital too early. I wasted a ton of time seeking venture capital at both of my first two start-ups when I could have been building those companies. Get some revenue, build your company, and get the business off the ground before seeking VC funding. It’s a valuable lesson I learned much later than I should have.
- It’s all about technology! At BBE, I spent years building a network, creating content, and staffing the organization before I realized that the value of the company rested on the technology. Especially in my business of online advertising, it really is all about the tech. It was a lesson I learned and have embraced as I’ve built the past two companies.
- Get your wife or significant other’s support. This, they don’t teach you in graduate school! Without your significant other’s support, most everything you do will be dead on arrival. For those of you without a spouse, you’re good to go, but if you do, this is advice worth taking. A supportive significant other will make all the difference between success and failure.
What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?
I read books of the great entrepreneurs and marketers like Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, and Jerry Weintraub. I listen to NPR and read the New York Times every day. Lastly and most importantly, I speak with my industry counterparts and mentors throughout the business to share ideas. That person to person interaction has never been more important than it is right now.
Thank you so much for sharing these fantastic insights!