I had the pleasure of interviewing Kean Graham, CEO of MonetizeMore, an 8-figure ad tech company that is a Google Certified Partner with 100+ full-time team members remotely based across the planet. MonetizeMore was conceived in the mountains of Machu Picchu and has grown to $17M in revenues. Graham has traveled to over 80 countries during the 8 years that he has been growing MonetizeMore.
1.Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us about your journey to becoming CEO?.
I originally fell in love with the online 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. Seven months later I started the digital business called MonetizeMore which now offers this autonomous lifestyle to every member of our team.
Since then, the company has grown to $17M in revenues that is a Google Certified Partner with 100+ full-time team members remotely based across the planet.
2.What is your definition of success?
Success is the degree of completion of one’s personal and career/business goals without compromising one’s principles.
3.Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
A nomad entrepreneur friend and I were on a safari in Okavango, Botswana during a trip in 2017. 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 you can see from this photo(We were closer but it was too dangerous to take a photo). 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.
4.What failures have you had along the way? How have they led you to success?
In January 2014 our largest publisher at the time received a spam attack from one of their competitors. After 3 weeks of investigation, the violation was deemed large enough to ban the whole master account. When Google bans an account, they revoke all unpaid ad revenues which added up to $2.2 million USD that was owed to MonetizeMore and our publishers.
This was crushing news that brought MonetizeMore to the brink of bankruptcy, however, our team was able to rally and come out of this horrible situation stronger than ever. We were able to retain a decent percentage of our publisher partners and had to make one-off deals with several. We responded to the Google ban by implementing three measures to prevent a Google ban from happening again and to be less dependent on Google: stringent screening, fraud detection & suppression tech, diversified revenues.
Since the ban, we have been able to patch up our relationship with Google. Our relationship with Google is better than ever and MonetizeMore is a healthier company thanks to the measures we implemented after the ban.
5.What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
As a location independent business in a relatively traditional advertising industry, MonetizeMore has been an enigma. We approach ad optimization from a create value first then charge after perspective. All our competitors charge a revenue share of all their publisher clients’ revenues. We charge a percentage of the increase we earn for them. Therefore, we charge nothing if we do not increase their ad revenues. We live and die by our performance which has propelled us to build the best ad optimization practices and technology which has lead us to become the best performing ad optimization company in the industry.
Location freedom has been a differentiating benefit that we offer our team members and we’ve been able to attract A-level talent as a result, especially since it is rare for other ad tech companies to offer location freedom. For example, we were able to attract our Chief Product Officer to MonetizeMore because location freedom was such a unique and valuable offering to his work lifestyle. He had been receiving new offers from ad tech companies on a weekly basis, however, it was the aspect of location freedom that cut through the clutter for him.
6.Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Publishers who monetize their audience via display ads can either outsource their ad operations so that one of MonetizeMore’s ad optimization teams will handle all their ad optimization tactics, execution and strategy. If publishers prefer to keep their ad operations in-house, they could use PubGuru(The Hootsuite of the ad technology industry) to get access to powerful ad technology to boost ad revenue performance and optimize via an easy-to-use platform while still getting full reporting transparency and maintain full ownership of their ad inventory. MonetizeMore developed PubGuru to compliment any in-house ad operations team.
PubGuru is going to be released in September 2018 and will establish itself as the go-to product to compliment any publisher’s in-house ad operation team to maintain and achieve:
– Full ad inventory ownership
– 100% transparency
– Ad revenue potential via sophisticated machine learning tech
– Optimization of their ad inventory auction on the fly via an easy-to-use platform
– Receiving notifications of ad ops errors and optimization suggestions
– Proactive traffic quality management
7.Can you tell us about the initiatives that your company is doing to become be more sustainable? Can you give an example for each?
The vision of MonetizeMore was to be sustainable from the start with the commitment towards location independence. The ability for all team members to work from home eliminates the need to commute and eat out so much as well. This has decreased each of their carbon footprints significantly.
Business offices also create unnecessary waste on a daily basis. MonetizeMore has committed to not operate out of an office because they are unnecessary, cause housing shortages and add to the overall carbon footprint.
If businesses were more forward thinking with triple bottom-line considerations, the trend of virtual offices would further accelerate. The trend of location independence is a big step towards decreasing the Earth’s carbon emissions.
8.What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
I would recommend for any CEO to implement a key performance indicator (KPI) system in accordance to their teams and workflows. For example, we implemented the following color system:
Yellow: Room for improvement
This color determines the performance of each team on a daily basis. The KPIs range from project duration, to ad revenue increase to client or candidate leads. The KPI per team is the most important quantifiable measure of the whole team’s performance.
The green KPI range is the best score and the red KPI range is the worst. If the team hits yellow they must discuss internally how to improve the KPI score and if it’s red they have to urgently make changes to improve the score for the next day.
Since implementing this KPI system, company performance has dramatically improved. We’ve seen great collaboration within teams, more innovative thinking, greater work ethic and improved morale with the increased transparency and being part of a team that is working towards a clear and common goal. The KPI system has been one of our best implementations in our history and works especially well for remote teams.
9.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?
I couldn’t say all my success came from the mentorship of just one person but rather many. My Mother has been a huge inspiration in terms of raising me to be balanced, grounded, prepared and generous to those that deserve it. I can attribute my analytical skills and frugalness to my Father.
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 cutting through this and getting our attention which would lead us to make our business plans more executable.
10.How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I would say the majority of the goodness I have brought to the World exist within MonetizeMore. The effect of a location and schedule free work lifestyle have changed the lives of many of our team members. Some have sold their stuff, ended their lease and now live full-time nomadic lives.
Other team members have moved to a small town they always wanted to live in that wouldn’t have relevant career opportunity otherwise but is viable when working with MonetizeMore. Some have even decided to have children because they can now raise their children while working from home and not have to worry about commuting and daycares.
All in all, many of our team members have taken advantage of their newly obtained freedom by engineering their ideal lifestyles. As a result, they commonly mention that they’d never go back to the office work lifestyle.
11. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. ‘We’ Instead of ‘Me’: When I started the business it was challenging and exciting. We were able to break even by month five. Our first client was the employer that laid me off. I offered them a percentage of the ad revenue increase and was able to make them additional millions.
The biggest lesson I learned is to not communicate the company in terms of just me, but as ‘we’ instead. If I were to do it again, I would have communicated my company as larger than just me so they looked at my company as a company rather than a previous employee. Than I would have been able to avoid issues with earning “too much commission”.
2. Be More Skeptical of Potential Partners: I am a very trusting person. While it has been advantageous for the most part, it has been a falter one particular time.
I partnered with a hot-shot programmer that came in with a lot of promise and delivered next to nothing. If I were more skeptical and thoroughly checked his references, including ones he didn’t provide, I would have been able to make a better decision and save the company a lot of costs and headaches.
3. Sell the Vision: When my company was young, it was tough to sell our offering. I had to find businesses that were willing to take a risk on a young company. I would have had an easier time selling if I sold “where we’re going” rather than “where we are”.
There was one online classified in particular that would have converted as a new client if I communicated the vision of the business. Inspiration of a grand vision can go a long ways in terms of value perception especially when long-term B2B relationships are on the line.
4. Be Assertive When It Counts: I’ve always been a reasonable and friendly leader. While this can be great for creating a collaborative and happy work atmosphere, it also can be a breeding ground for bad behaviour.
At the end of the day, I am the gate keeper for bad behaviour. If I let it slide, then that communicates to the team and that team member that, that type of behaviour is acceptable. This can become a slippery slope very quickly. I learned that when team members try to get away with bad behaviour that hurts the company, it’s important to be assertive to stop it in its tracks. That’s where the line is drawn in the sand and your team members will respect you for being assertive but professional.
5. Leverage Your Culture: When I started my business, the idea of cultivating a culture sounded so fluffy. Back then, I didn’t think that would be a good substitute for activities that directly affected deliverables.
As the team grew over the years, it became apparent that building a culture purposefully was very important. As a result, I spear-headed a company culture initiative and MonetizeMore has benefited since. Thanks to the culture we have built, evolved and leveraged, the company has been experiencing a powerful momentum which has propelled growth further than I ever imagined.
12.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 see a World with more female entrepreneurs. There seems to be a growing trend of more female entrepreneurs thanks to some incredible female-focused programs. I would like to see this trend accelerate. The tech and entrepreneurial circles are too male dominant and I think the World is missing out as a result.
Becoming an entrepreneur is very empowering and it would be a shame if the high majority of people who took this empowering journey were still mostly men.
13.Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You will never write an extraordinary story until you realize you are the author”
This is an incredible quote because it enables me to enjoy my victories more and bounce back from my failures quickly. For victories, I know that even if there was a bit of perceived luck involved, it was my previous actions to inevitably lead to that event.
For my failures, I am able to learn from them immediately because I take responsibility and reflect on how I could have prevented the negative situation so that it never happens again. From there, I change a good thing into a bad thing by approaching the negative situation from a new clever angle. For example, we were disapproved by Google several years ago and lost millions as a result. We responded by improving our screening processes, diversifying our revenue streams and partnering with a fraud suppression company to prevent this issue from happening again. As a result, we have re-built the company to be more sustainable and resilient than ever. It ended up being a blessing in disguise!