MarTech Interview with Lynn Browne and Mollie Kehoe, Co-Founders at BrandVerge



How did you get into technology? What inspired you to start BrandVerge?

Lynn: I think what really inspired us to do both, is personal frustration in our professional careers. I come from the buy-side, and Mollie from the sell-side, and we were both experiencing a lot of friction in the current RFP process –  the way that media partnerships are traditionally bought and sold. It drove us to see the need and the white space in the market to then figure out the technology required to solve that problem, fill that gap and make the entire process more efficient.

Mollie: When we sat down and really thought about it, there’s so many technologies that have disrupted and helped make our personal lives easier. For example, It’s easier to book a trip with Kayak than to book through a travel agent, or it’s easier to find a place to stay with Airbnb than calling individual hotels. Our day-to-day lives have become more streamlined because of technology, and we felt that if our consumer-facing lives are made easier every day, there should be something in our work lives that makes our jobs just as easy.

What is the BrandVerge platform and what problems does it solve?

Mollie: BrandVerge is a marketplace that helps to streamline the discovery, planning and consideration of premium media sponsorships. BrandVerge helps advertisers discover new media partners, ultimately creating unparalleled access and transparency, so they know all the different partners they can, and should, be working with based on their campaign priorities. This approach allows advertisers to operate and plan high-touch programs about 70 percent faster than their normal RFP process. On the other side, for media Sales organizations, we’re giving them more opportunities — more shots on goal. We’re helping them get in front of over 300 plus advertiser accounts at any given time. Creating high quality lead-gen and demand that they cannot get anywhere else.

BrandVerge helps drive efficiencies for both sides of the media marketplace. At BrandVerge, our mission is to help streamline and simplify the way all types of media sponsorships are discovered, planned, and ultimately sold. We plan to become the go-to destination to shop and list media offerings at scale.

What reaction do you get from people who first try the BrandVerge platform?

Lynn: We get a great reaction. What’s interesting is that it seems so simple to our buy-side partners. We’re replacing a manual and tedious legacy process with intuitive technology that  makes it super quick for buyers to find what they’re looking for. When we walk them through a product demo, they’re sort of like “what’s the catch?’’ Buyers come onto the platform, use it at their leisure and then have an ah-ha moment when they realize they can learn more information about new media partners on-demand. Beyond the excitement they also realize how much time it’s going to save them in the long run.

It’s similar on the sell side. Our platform saves organizations time, especially when thinking about inefficiencies throughout the direct-sales process. Rather than relying on individual outreach, our platform is able to deliver built-in scale; that scale comes from advertisers that our media companies don’t even have in their pipeline. So, we’re able to make those connections to net-new business opportunities in a way that generates super qualified leads that are much more likely to close. This creates more shots on goal for Sales organizations, which ultimately increases total potential revenue.

Why do you think it’s taken this long for innovations transforming the RFP process?

Lynn: It’s funny because when we bring up the RFP process in a meeting, everyone agrees that a new solution is long overdue. There has been so much focus on programmatic and that space has blown up due to technological advances in AdTechAutomation and Audience targeting – but how we apply those tenants to streamline premium partnerships? Brand awareness and consideration is an integral part of a brand’s Marketing strategy – and we are excited to finally deliver a solution that makes discovery and collaboration on-demand

Mollie: What’s interesting is when people think of high-touch premium partnerships, they think of them as very complex, and while they can be, every program has key fundamentals that can be understood before you start to customize them. So, what we’ve done is given our partners a place to start. What parts of these programs are consistent? What are the key buyer signals that help an advertiser understand the offering? That part of the process is streamlined significantly with BrandVerge. And that’s unique to us. Instead of simplifying the ad format or simplifying the end product, we allow those products and those end results to be highly customized and integrated in a much more digestible way.

What have been the key obstacles you’ve had to overcome to make that happen?

Lynn: We like to say one of our favorite things about being entrepreneurs is that your problems are constantly changing. I remember the day that our product launched, Mollie and I looked at each other and we were worried that nobody was going to ever upload a single proposal. You learn that, over time, you simply address those challenges as they come and move onto the next. It’s actually common that you’ll never think about that problem again – which certainly was the case with proposal creation on the platform. We average 250-300 opportunities on the marketplace at any given time. Needless to say, our challenges today are vastly different than they were a year and a half ago.

Mollie: One thing we always say here, or one thing that’s been a consistent adversary, if you will, is behavior change. In anything we do in our lives, people really like routine and familiarity. For us, as we continue to grow, we’re always going up against behavior change. Our platform allows users to do their jobs about 70% faster than their current process. So for us, it’s about changing a user’s mindset. Once people have that aha moment with BrandVerge, they never go back.

What are some of the most frequent questions you get from brands and media partners about the platform?

Lynn: We are constantly listening to what our customers are telling us, and then infusing that back into the product. Whether it’s storing the feedback and taking time to think through a new feature set, or enhancing the current experience to make things easier or more intuitive. Something specific that we have gotten requests for is the ability for advertisers to share initial ideas with the community to find the right solution from the right media partner. In essence taking elements of how the current RFP process works, but using our platform to streamline the workflow.

The other question that we get is how often media partners are refreshing their content on the platform, which is why we have a customer success team in place on our end – to help ensure the marketplace is always curated with fresh and premium content.

Can you name some of the recent account wins and some of the benefits they have retained as a result of using the BrandVerge platform?

Mollie: As we started to onboard new partners in different spaces, we’re really excited about mindbodygreen in the health and wellness space. Also, New York Media who covers a variety of things including fashion, food, entertainment and culture. We’re also starting to expand into B2B with companies like Adweek and Newsweek. We continue to grow in the women’s lifestyle space. What all of these partners have gained is access, insight and data. Not only do we give them more shots on goal, and give them a place to showcase and market their capabilities for potential partners to connect with them, but we also give them data on what advertisers are looking for, what’s trending in the market, how is their content trending compared to the rest of the marketplace and where they might be missing the mark. I think that is the benefit of BrandVerge from day one, any partner who signs on is going to be able to get data and the best insights on advertisers that they can’t get anywhere else.

What in your view are the most difficult challenges your industry is faced with right now?

Mollie: Consolidation happening in the industry. I think it’s been really interesting for us to see how things are changing in the digital world and how some of our clients are merging together. At the same time, it’s exciting to see how things are evolving in areas like audio. Podcasts are a space that we’re entering very soon and that we’re really excited about. It’s an area that is growing rapidly. For us, the landscape is ever-changing.

Lynn: The other challenge, I think, for the industry as a whole are regulations around privacy. Some of the recent changes have impacted the way that brands think about third-party tracking and behavioral targeting.

This will ultimately lead to changes in investments towards personalized programmatic advertising. What’s great for us is that BrandVerge is completely agnostic to all of that. We allow brands and marketers to invest transparently with premium media companies that have a built-in audience. These advertisers know where all their dollars are being invested. That’s definitely an interesting challenge that we are tracking closely to see how investment changes over time.

What kind of ROI can businesses expect to derive using your solution?

Lynn: On the buy side, it depends on how the organization is set up, but we’re saving them about 70 percent of the time that is normally spent on the RFP process, which is about 100 hours typically. Then in terms of the investment resources that they’re able to loosen up on their end, we’ve seen on average that our buy-side accounts can operate 2x more efficiently, which can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for any given company.

It’s also important to consider that increased efficiency is not only saving money, but also empowering users to accomplish more, faster. So that’s the number that we just talked about, but also the quality of their work increases. When we talk to some of our agencies, especially sophisticated agencies that are trying to turn back towards serving clients as strategic consultants and less as workhorses, BrandVerge is providing the power, technology and information to become strategic and creative consultants rather than just dealing with the spreadsheets and monotony of the RFP process.

The platform currently has around $250 million in buying power, which grows each month as we add new accounts. So that ROI on the Sales side can be huge.

What’s the biggest disruption that you see on the horizon right now?

Lynn: I would say in terms of disruption for the business, it goes back to the consolidation that Mollie was speaking to and the ever-changing landscape. As media consumption changes with technology, media investment changes, so making sure that we’re constantly tracking the market and how the industry is evolving is very important to us. In terms of overall disruption, the turn towards Voice technology is very interesting. Think about how Google Home and Alexa are already changing behavior in the home and then consider what that power of voice means for media consumption – it’s pretty powerful.

Audio is also receiving more and more attention as podcast and audiobook consumption continues to rise. The IAB released a stat around the growth of attention on a per-day basis, and it was pretty remarkable. The space is absolutely exploding, and we are excited to jump into the mix next quarter with a big push to streamline podcast media sponsorships – all facilitated through the same BrandVerge platform that our users know and love.

What makes you different from what’s currently available in the market?

Mollie: Currently, we say our biggest competitor is the old process. This is the manual, outdated hundred-hour RFP process. So the fact that we’re disrupting a fragmented landscape, creating transparency and bringing everything online allows us to stand out 10-fold compared to how people currently plan Excel sheets and PowerPoint and endless email chains. As our product continues to grow and improve, the disparity between the two is just going to get wider and wider.

Can you tell us more about the benefits that advertisers, brands and media partners get from working with the BrandVerge platform?

Lynn: They’re getting a completely flipped process that has been transformed for the better. What we’re doing is empowering advertisers, brands and media partners with on-demand access to what they crave. For advertisers and brands, that is they key information on media partners (and their opportunities for partnership) required to make an informed decision versus manually sending a written brief to a very limited number of media partners and waiting up to two to four weeks to get ideas back. Instead, users are able to log into BrandVerge and pull relevant options for consideration right then and there. Our consistent template for each opportunity also ensures options can be considered on as much of an apples-to-apples comparison as possible. This ultimately gives them the freedom to browse at their leisure and, on their own terms, rather than relying on other people’s timelines, to make the right decision for their business.

How are you preparing BrandVerge for the ongoing digital disruption brought by the growth of AI, Machine Learning and Automation?

Lynn: We built our products from the ground up in order to make sure that we’re collecting and housing every single behavior and action that a user takes on our platform. The goal is to leverage AI to turn that data into personalized recommendations that make the discovery process even easier. When a user runs a search, not only are we recommending opportunities that meet their search criteria, but we’re also applying recommendations based on their preferences, campaign parameters and common searches on the platform. AI and Machine Learning is going to unlock a whole extra layer of productivity and value for our customers down the road.

How do you inspire people to work with your technology?

Lynn: A lot of people that we meet with, from both sides of the platform, feel the pain, struggle and frustration created by the outdated RFP process. We consistently hear that there needs to be a better way – and BrandVerge is that better way. People are excited that entrepreneurs are finally stepping up to create change by improving and automating the way that we do things. We work in an industry full of innovation and creation, with new products coming out every single day, but the way we plan media partnerships has not changed. That’s a problem!

Mollie: When we step into a room, we walk through the evolution of how we got here, how the RFP process has become the standard, how complexity and fragmentation in the landscape has made the process even more cumbersome and complex and opaque. Telling them that there can be a better way is inspiring. People get excited and you see their eyes light up when we explain what we’re doing.

What are your predictions for most impactful disruptions in 2020?

Mollie: People will turn towards voice and audio. Over the last 10 years, our society has become very much on the go. There’s a lot more traveling, more time in transit. People are mobile and as a result, we’re seeing a turn towards audio for work and entertainment. That’s why podcasts are so interesting. Attention is increasing there because people spend more time commuting.  Popping in a podcast and listening to streaming audio is easy and accessible. It’s definitely something we’ll continue to see even more so on an exponential basis.

How do you inspire people to work with technology?

Lynn: We use different tools at BrandVerge for productivity. As a startup, it’s easier to inspire people to use technology to work more efficiently since there is so much to get done in any given day. For example, using different tools for either task management or Sales CRM, we can show our organization how much easier it becomes to collaborate and work on big projects. As leaders, not only are we leading by example, but we’re also showcasing the benefits and the core value of workplace technology – like BrandVerge!

What’s one word that best describes how you work?

Lynn: Collaboration. Here at BrandVerge, we’re one big team. We don’t silo ourselves to one role, one job or one mission every day. We sit very closely and are big communicators. Every success that we’ve had at the company has been due to collaboration from the entire team.

What apps or software tools can’t you live without?

Lynn: We live in Asana, which is a task management tool that allows people to know what you’re working on and how you’re progressing. It is super collaborative, allowing teammates to drop in notes and comments, share feedback and check things off your list.

What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?

Mollie: Anything that happens in the company, we import through Slack. It gets everyone on the same page much quicker. It basically takes out the need to circulate information and automatically ensures that everyone is working with the same amount of knowledge.

What are you currently reading right now?

Lynn: I’m reading a book called Blitzscaling by Reid Hoffman. It’s been a helpful reference as Mollie and I think of new ways to scale the business for significant growth.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Lynn: Pay it forward. As entrepreneurs, it’s kind of like being part of this massive team where you don’t even know who all the players are, but once you meet someone that’s an entrepreneur, you’re like, “oh, ok, we’re on the same team here”. In that moment you know, you’ve got to help each other out – whether you’re the Founder or CEO of a very successful startup or one that’s growing like ours or one that just started today. It’s important to be as helpful as you can because you’ve either been that person before or will be that person one day.

Mollie: One of our favorite investors calls it the kindness currency. Always do what you can for other people. I think the kindness currency has been really the best piece of advice we’ve ever gotten. Help people when you can, because you may not always have that luxury.

What’s something you do better than others? The secret of success.

Lynn: Putting myself in other people’s shoes. It’s something I try to do on a regular basis because it helps ground conversations and decisions with a 360-degree perspective versus the one side that I sit on.

Who’s the one person in this industry who’s answers to these questions you would love to read?

Lynn: Our investor Michael Kassan, the CEO and Chairman of Media Link.

Thank you, Lynn and Mollie! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

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