We would use our influence to help propel equality forward. While there are so many important causes in need of support, we feel that working towards increasing the baseline respect and kindness in our world is the most important. This is something we have both felt strongly about, and was underscored pretty dramatically when we became female founders and started to experience some adverse treatment. We have met amazing people throughout this journey, but there is no question that a higher bar has been set for female founders compared to their male counterparts. In fact, there was a pretty astounding article in Harvard Business Review that reveals how VCs and investors approach entrepreneurial women with a baseline of prejudicial behavior — even if it is not intended. This is a small example of inequality among a group of individuals that has been otherwise exposed to enormous opportunity, which only leads you to imagine what truly persecuted groups endure on a daily basis. The other great thing about supporting baseline respect and equality is that it enforces thinking of others’ first, and would therefore help to propel other causes forward. Think about what an equality-first mindset would mean for other movements all around the globe.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lynn Browne and Mollie Kehoe of BrandVerge.
Lynn Browne, co-founder of BrandVerge, has over ten years of digital marketing experience across various disciplines and industries. Lynn’s career began at Publicis-owned Zenith Media, during which time the agency’s digital media services ramped up to become a key agency offering. Her passion for digital marketing and the fast-paced nature of retail led Lynn to transition to a client-side role at Macy’s, where she led innovative updates to legacy programs and worked across the marketing organization to develop highly engaging digital-first programs. Lynn has her bachelor’s degree from Penn State, where she met co-founder Mollie Kehoe, on day one.
Mollie Kehoe, co-founder of BrandVerge, has over ten years of advertising sales and management experience with various publishing and digital organizations such as Meredith Corporation, Sporting News and AdTheorent. Mollie began her career in advertising at Fitness and MORE Magazines, where she discovered her passion for client-facing sales roles. Later she moved to online publisher Sportingnews.com in a new business role. In 2012, Mollie became one of the first employees at AdTheorent, a mobile technology firm, where she got her first taste of “startup life,” helping grow the company from seven to over 150 employees, and successfully leading a large team as Director of the New York Sales Region for three years.
The BrandVerge founding team has more than 14 years of combined experience in digital media. Lynn’s background as a media agency buyer and client-side marketing strategist is complemented by Mollie’s expertise in advertising sales and client solutions. Both founders have endured years of frustration with the custom media RFP-process, so they sought to simplify things by founding BrandVerge. Their combined experience and knowledge of friction on both sides of the industry provided the perspective needed to build, and successfully bring to market, a solution that significantly simplifies day-to-day tasks for both media buyers and sellers. BrandVerge integrates and orchestrates content, in all its forms, into an elegant marketplace — providing the advertising industry with a premier destination to shop, sell and create premium media opportunities.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Lynn and Mollie! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
We both went to Penn State and majored in Advertising/Communications. After college we ended up on opposite sides of the Media and Advertising industry. Mollie started her career at Meredith in marketing and sales, and Lynn began hers as a planner at Zenith Media. We both fell in love with the industry and how it was changing. From the rise of mobile to the expansion of social and programmatic, we watched brands and media partners continuously evolve as the media ecosystem expanded. As the industry shifted, we both noticed that operationally, the process for buying and selling media stalled. This impacted how effective we were able to be at our jobs, and our colleagues felt the same, so we decided to reinvent how media programs are discovered and planned with BrandVerge.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
As first time entrepreneurs we have a ton of interesting stories, both big and small, that have impacted BrandVerge and helped us grow and improve our offering. The most significant thing that has helped us improve as leaders and business owners has been the people we have met throughout BrandVerge’s journey. We have spent time with CEO’s, other first-time founders, serial entrepreneurs and investors, and all have given us advice or feedback that has helped to propel our business another step forward. The experience of founding a company has taught us to be open to every introduction and conversation that comes our way, because we know we will learn something from each new person we meet.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
About nine months after we started BrandVerge, we “moved out” of coffee shops and into our first office. At the time the company was just the two of us and we spent the entire day putting the office together and getting it ready for our new team members. We were both so proud of ourselves…it was a big day! Half way through moving day, we went down to reception to ask for a few tools and noticed two identical bouquet of flowers behind the desk with cards attached to them. Mollie assumed they were for us, from our husbands, and kept wondering why reception hadn’t called us down to grab them. After wondering out loud for several hours, Mollie finally went down and asked why they hadn’t called about the flowers yet. Well, guess what…they weren’t for us! We still laugh about this story today.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Just 13 months since our launch, BrandVerge is reaching 30%+ month-over-month client growth with over 257 accounts using the platform — from both premium publishers and media buyers alike. Nearly 90% of BrandVerge partners use the platform every 28-days, including Vox Media, American Media, OnlyGood TV, Cheddar, Bustle Digital Group, Article 22, Mouser, Travel Texas, SUBWAY, Bai Water, AMC, Russell Athletics, Under The Canopy, SafeRingz and many more. BrandVerge is arming media buyers with direct access that on average, saves them approximately three weeks of work, and generates significantly more unique account views per proposal for media partners — reducing their sales cycle down to just over a month.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are currently working with a leading industry trade group, which we are planning to announce in the coming months.The trade group hosts some of the biggest showcases in the media industry where partners highlight the best in original content for the upcoming year, and new ad programs that buyers can purchase. These are in-person events that don’t live anywhere once they are over. Through this project we will be able to give access to all advertisers, not just those who attend the programming.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Our main advice would be to surround yourself with people who also believe in your mission and listen to their ideas. Let the team know that they are just as important to the success of the company as you are,and take their ideas seriously. Some of the best ideas within our organization have come from our team members.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Delegation is key. We learned very early on to surround ourselves with people who have knowledge in areas we do not and to allow them to show us best practices or generate ideas where their expertise lies. Surrounding ourselves with people who excel in areas outside our areas of expertise has been extremely beneficial to our business.
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?
Our first investor and board member Anthony Iacovone believed in us and BrandVerge when it was just an idea in a Business Plan. He gave us the resources we needed to take BrandVerge from an idea to an actual software that we could bring to market. We will never forget the moment we first pitched our idea to Anthony. We came prepared with a deck and talking points and he said “I don’t need to see any of that. I believe in you and I believe in what you are doing.” This gave us the confidence to take the plunge and start what has now become a successful business with hundreds of customers.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We are just getting started, but our experience as first time female founders has really taught us to practice what we call the “Kindness Currency.” We try to help people in whatever way we can, whenever we can, whether that be through introductions, helping people with their business plans or general advice. Down the road we both plan to invest in women-run and minority-run businesses. Knowing that only 3% of funding goes to businesses with female and minority founders is devastating, and we feel that every time we fundraise, our goal is to play a part in changing that and providing more funding to growing businesses with all types of leaders at the helm.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Don’t Second Guess Yourself. If you feel strongly about something, go with it. It’s probably the right decision. Remember that you know the overall business better than anyone. Trust yourself and go with your gut. More often than not, it is right.
- Surround Yourself with Smart People. We’ve surrounded ourselves with people who excel in areas we don’t and in people who we learn from every single day. This continues to make us better leaders.
- Talk Less, Listen More. It’s your job to pay attention to what other people say, especially those who think their views don’t count. Show you’re listening by acting on what people tell you, and gain their trust by giving them the credit.
- Give the Team a Sense of Purpose. Your team knows what they do and how to do it, but you can make a big difference by reinforcing their purpose, sharing a strong sense of why they’re doing it and where it’s heading. Help them develop a broad understanding of the team’s purpose, and faith in how their role contributes to the whole.
- Don’t be too Hard on Yourself when Things go Badly. It’s ok to make mistakes. You will make them multiple times throughout your career. Acknowledge them, learn from them and move on. We are all doing the best we can and sometimes you’re going to disappoint yourself. It’s ok, it won’t be the end of the world.
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. 🙂
We would use our influence to help propel equality forward. While there are so many important causes in need of support, we feel that working towards increasing the baseline respect and kindness in our world is the most important. This is something we have both felt strongly about, and was underscored pretty dramatically when we became female founders and started to experience some adverse treatment. We have met amazing people throughout this journey, but there is no question that a higher bar has been set for female founders compared to their male counterparts. In fact, there was a pretty astounding article in Harvard Business Review that reveals how VCs and investors approach entrepreneurial women with a baseline of prejudicial behavior — even if it is not intended. This is a small example of inequality among a group of individuals that has been otherwise exposed to enormous opportunity, which only leads you to imagine what truly persecuted groups endure on a daily basis.
The other great thing about supporting baseline respect and equality is that it enforces thinking of others’ first, and would therefore help to propel other causes forward. Think about what an equality-first mindset would mean for other movements all around the globe.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave.” ―Mary Tyler Moore
Starting BrandVerge was a big risk, but something we felt that we had to do in order to improve our industry. Since building this company we have had to take hundreds of chances, and have made tons of mistakes along the way, but without all of that we wouldn’t be where we are now.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
As fans of Shark Tank, we’ve come to truly admire Barbara Corcoran — not only because of the massive business empire that she built from scratch (very impressive), but also for the fact that she is nothing but comfortable in her skin and constantly delivers smart, direct, and respectful feedback. We would love to take Barbara out to lunch and get her advice on how to scale BrandVerge at light speed.