Nearly a decade ago, I started a little business called BzzAgent. The idea was simple: if we provided real consumers with great brand experiences, they would share their authentic opinions with others. And if they did, those brands would see a tremendous amount of value. Because – and I’m not telling you anything new here – as people we value recommendations and opinions from real consumers more than anything a marketer could ever tell us.
As luck would have it, this wasn’t such a shabby idea. Sure, early on we had our fair share of challenges like getting thrown out of a-shall-not-be-named top ad agency’s office (we were deemed, “blasphemous”) to overcoming the perception that engaging real consumers wasn’t “tearing apart the fabric of the very last thread of decency the world had” (from one piece of fan mail). In the end, clients realized they needed authentic consumers more than anything; and consumers realized they loved being marketing with instead of being marketed at.
Enter 2011. We’ve helped more than 2,000 products get launched for more than 300 clients. We’re profitable and growing. Our form of marketing has become sophisticated, incredibly valued and – in a social age – absolutely necessary. And, today, the company is announcing it is being acquired by dunnhumby, a division of Tesco, PLC (yes, the $140 billion supermarket chain / retailer).
We couldn’t be happier about this. I mean, we’re talking serious backflips, caterwauls and jumping jacks. This will allow us to take the BzzAgent platform to the next level in 3 ways:
- Scale: 800,000 awesome (yeah, you guys are awesome) BzzAgents is significant, but dunnhumby has access to over 200 million shoppers worldwide. Our scale for social marketing programs is now unmatched.
- Targeting: Agents provide us up to 250 data points to help us identify the right ones for campaigns. Shortly (with opt in, of course) we’ll begin engaging campaign participants based on actual purchase activity.
- Measurement: Today, we lead in the industry in social marketing measurement via Marketing Mix Modeling and Matched Market Tests. We’ll now have transaction records to track the ROI of BzzCampaigns all the way through in-store purchase.
Look, I could talk all day about how great this is. But the real story is what it takes to get a company from the kernel of an idea all the way through to sale. A few things come to mind:
- Persistence. You gotta keep your dream alive. I can’t tell you how many doors were shut in our face in the first year.
- Passionate People. When we started, we didn’t have super-experienced executives to make the business sing. But we had believers. People who were dedicated. Could see a changed world. Had something to stand up for. You need this to get an idea to come to life.
- Some Scratch, but Not Too Much Too Early. We didn’t have a ton of money to begin with and it helped us really focus on building something that could create value. When the time was right, we capitalized the business with angel investors and venture capitalists, but the fact that we had almost no money early was one reason we’re here today.
- Investors, Not Financiers. This is really important. Pick your investors wisely. You don’t want people with money. You want people who know how to invest, and know how to help businesses grow. All money isn’t created equally.
- Rowboat Paddles. They say running a company is like being in a rowboat in the middle of the ocean. I’d add to that your rowboat is always leaking and you may find yourself in 15 foot swells. You have to live through the bad days along with the good.
- Honesty and Transparency. Companies get crushed by miscommunication and secrets and rumors. Early on we set a path of being insanely open with our staff and the world (see blog posts back in 2004 about this stuff) which squashed all that nasty stuff that breaks apart teams.
- Loyalty. I can’t say enough about this: Loyalty is the currency of great business relationships. A few folks have worked alongside me for many years (and many companies), and while roles change and strategy shifts, I could always rely on these people to remember the dream. You have to inspire loyalty, but you have to give it back.
With all of this, and a great idea, you can build a great company. So, what now? Well, we keep building. I’m not going anywhere – I’ll remain CEO of BzzAgent will be joining dunnhumby’s executive group – and our team is remaining intact. The next stage of BzzAgent is going to be incredibly exciting, and we’re looking forward to applying all of our learnings to making this phase of BzzAgent even more successful than the last one…