This month, in the CEO Spotlight, we welcome David Courtney, CEO, JiWire, San Francisco
I’ve had varied experiences throughout my career, always trying to stretch my horizons and gain new perspectives.
I began my career in corporate strategy consulting with Boston Consulting Group and then became a part of GE’s corporate business development team during the early portion of Jack Welch’s CEO tenure. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to participate in group discussions and make presentations to Jack and his corporate staff on many occasions. I learned a tremendous amount from Jack’s tenacity, his incisive intellect and sharp wit. After business school at Stanford, I spent more than a dozen years in technology investment banking with both Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan, raising capital for high-growth technology and media companies and advising them on M & A opportunities. As I worked with entrepreneurs and technology leaders, I really liked the spirit, passion and excitement they exhibited about their businesses, and I made a decision to gravitate that way.
Over the past 11 years, I played a leadership role in three different early-stage media and technology companies. In 1999, I joined a relatively unknown private early-stage start-up named TiVo, first as CFO and then as head of worldwide operations and administration, helping drive it to become a household name, taking it public and growing it to encompass more than 5 million subscribers and more than $200 million in annual revenue. Throughout my seven-year tenure at TiVo, I admired the leadership and entrepreneurial flair shown by Mike Ramsay, TiVo’s co-founder and CEO. Mike hired great people, gave them direction, support and humor, and let them produce great results. We had a great team, worked well together and I chalk it up to his leadership.
In 2007, I joined Adify as president and COO, and helped grow its revenue dramatically, increasing the company’s operational scale from 35 to 80 employees and adding more than 100 network partners before opportunistically selling the company to Cox Enterprises in a landmark transaction in July, 2008. After a year as an executive-in-residence at Venrock (one of Adify’s early investors), I joined JiWire in September, 2009, as CEO, teaming with its founder, Kevin McKenzie, to help scale the business and move it into more diversified products and markets. I immediately liked Kevin’s passion and enthusiasm for the location-based market and felt that JiWire had both industry-leading targeting technology and unparalleled distribution to the on-the-go audience through key network relationships.
How did you get into this field? Tell us about your background. Is there anything or anyone that particularly inspired you?
- If you had taken another career path, what do you think you would be doing today?
I’ve always been an avid athlete and sports enthusiast. I was a long-distance runner throughout my college years and I spent significant time as a competitive cyclist. I’m also one of those people who can watch any sport at any time and be entertained. I’m an ESPN junkie! If I hadn’t pursued the technology and media business, I’d likely have found a way to mesh my sporting interests to develop a cool business idea.
- Who owns JiWire? What was the 2009 revenue and how does it compare to 2010 so far? Was the company affected by the recession? In what way and, in your opinion, why or why not?
JiWire is a private company. We’re consistently doing really well, seeing our business and our revenues grow at an exceptional pace each quarter and each year. We have some unique business expansion opportunities, particularly in the areas of location-based advertising and mobile. As a private company, we do not disclose any specific revenue numbers, but I can tell you that our bookings and revenue have roughly doubled in 2010 to-date compared to 2009.
We’ve seen strong growth through the recession, particularly as CMO’s came under even greater pressure to demonstrate ROI. Our ability to bring measurability and interactivity to DOOH campaigns makes JiWire a far more attractive platform. Additionally, as mobile budgets have increased and become a more standard part of the marketing mix, our specialized focus on reaching an on-the-go audience has garnered very high interest from our clients.
- What is the top-line impact of location-based advertising?
If you look back over the past 12 months, we’ve seen an incredible explosion of location-based services and content, whether it’s from new providers or simply location being added as a feature to existing services, such as geo-tagged tweets. We’re witnessing a major transformation in our industry with the birth of location media, just as we saw with social media a few years ago, which creates new and unique advertising opportunities.
Knowing the context of a person’s location provides the most relevant information for understanding on-the-go consumers. Location ‘context’ goes beyond a mere point on a map identifying a person’s GPS coordinates to specifically knowing the type of venue and environment a person is in and even the brand of venue.
As people spend more time on the go, they are demanding more localized content. Location-based advertising allows brands to ‘localize’ themselves and be more relevant to their audience.
- How are big national brands today leveraging location-based services?
Just as brands were challenged on how to ‘socialize’ themselves in the social media space, today, brands need to think about how to ‘localize’ themselves with their consumers. People are more willing to share their location and are doing so to gain more relevant local and location-based content and services. In fact, our latest Mobile Audience Insights report observed that 51% of consumers are willing to share their current location to receive more relevant advertising.
Brands are leveraging location-based advertising across the purchase funnel, from top-level branding to specific-product education to location-targeted offers.
This full range of local-advertising spend is particularly true with national brands working to be a more local brand but with national scale. Many brands are including localized content or calls to action in their ads directly. We see on average a 100%-to-120% increase in click-through rates when local content is included.
- JiWire has announced many great exclusive venue partnerships, including Sheraton and Borders. What is JiWire’s role in each of these partnerships?
Yes, we have some very exciting new partnerships. Sheraton and Borders chose JiWire as their exclusive ad provider because of our history of working closely with premium venues, pairing relevant key advertisers, including big Fortune 500 brands and retaining a great user experience. As the leader in Wi-Fi and location-based advertising, we understand each of our venues’ audience and can help them leverage media as an additional revenue source. A huge retailer with hundreds or thousands of locations needs a partner that can be trusted to bring premium advertisers, which complement their brand experience.
Are most of your advertisers doing standard advertising, or are they mainly all multi-page advertisers developed especially, like your Sheraton Hotel advertising? With the latter, you must have to work very closely with the client. How long does it take to develop a full advertising program for an advertiser like Sheraton? What is involved?
We want to be a real creative partner, who offers original multi-media solutions that go beyond traditional banner advertising for unique engagement with the on-the-go audience. By offering placement inside premium venues (top airports, cafés, hotels, etc), with limited advertising opportunities in those venues outside of JiWire (how else can you advertise in a hotel room?), our exclusive partnerships mean JiWire is the only channel to access this premium audience.
Some of our popular programs include Ads for Access and Dynamic Location. Ads for Access enables advertisers to sponsor free Internet access in exchange for engaging with their brand. Dynamic Location inserts location-specific content, calls to action and messages into creative, creating highly personalized targeting for every ad delivered. Our customers have several opportunities on how they wish to leverage these programs to engage with their audience. We try to be innovative and flexible to each brands’ campaign goals.
You have public Wi-Fi locations including high-traffic international airports like John F. Kennedy and Chicago O’Hare, hotel chains like Hyatt and Marriott, cafes like Starbucks, major cruise lines, college campuses. Into what other areas do you hope to expand? When will you be going international?
International is absolutely on our radar and the conversations are well under way. The proliferation of technologies and devices is introducing numerous ways to connect to an inherently mobile audience; therefore, we are expanding into more mobile app partnerships and opportunities as well.
What advertising sector is not using JiWire that you feel should be taking advantage of it?
We’ve begun to do business with the entertainment and consumer packaged goods sectors, but they can both be doing far more with our location capabilities. As an example, movie studios could advertise film locations and times based upon a consumer’s specific location or target a type or genre of movie based upon the type of venue where a consumer is located (e.g. a very different profile of a student on a university campus vs. a business traveler in an executive lounge at JFK, etc.).
Do you see the company expanding in any other way, e.g. getting into another related – or even non-related business? If so, when?
We’ve already expanded this year in two ways. First, we’ve started to expand into a new international market. Second, we have expanded our location-based model to encompass mobile apps, which use location as an endemic feature.
In addition, we’re seeing fantastic success with our own app, the Wi-Fi Finder. This is a consumer-facing product and is gaining a ton of attention as a top 100 item in the iTunes App store, and is consistently among the top 10 utility apps. Approaching 9 million downloads, it’s one of the largest location-based apps and advertisers want to reach this audience.
The possibilities in location-based advertising are tremendous and we’re just getting started. We’ll continue to innovate in this area in ways that allow the advertising itself to incorporate more location-based information for consumers.
How is the role of the on-the-go traveler changing and how is it affecting your business?
Technology is enabling an increase in consumer utility and ‘connectedness’. Today, people are spending much more time on-the-go and they have a number of different devices, such as iPads, smartphones, laptops and netbooks that allow them to stay connected. Brands are starting to understand this revolutionary consumer shift, which is why location-based advertising is becoming a key part of more brands’ digital and mobile marketing strategies. Location has become a form of interest and intent, equally as relevant, if not more, than content is for reaching audiences, including travelers.
What do you see differentiating JiWire in the location-based space?
As sophisticated and complex as our ad products and delivery systems are, our differentiation is really quite simple — it’s all about knowing the context of every location-based ad delivered. It’s not about GPS or IP addresses, it’s about the actual environment a person is connecting from and their mindset that will help advertisers win in location-based advertising. We are uniquely able to give advertisers this information.
On your website, you invite people to suggest possible new wi-fi locations. How many suggestions do you get monthly (or annually) and how many of them do you actually activate?
Through both our website and our Wi-Fi Finder app, we invite people to share new paid and free public Wi-Fi locations, which can range from new premium venues to ‘mom and pop’ locations. Our consumers help us keep our database most accurate and up to date. We see more than 150 new locations submitted every week!
How do you see location/digital evolving?
The location-based application market is growing very rapidly, as consumer behavior shifts to demand more location-relevant content. Moving beyond the current geo-social market segment, apps that provide local search or help people find local products and services are proving to be in high demand. Location will likely find its way into many additional apps as a feature, such as geo-tagging photos or posting local reviews.
The Evolution: Digital → Behavioral → Social→ Locational.
Location is working its way into the social media landscape and is a great additional component to providing more location context. As for pricing models, CPM/CPC has evolved to Engagement/Reviews and now to Check-ins/Location Sharing. Brands will need to engage with their consumers at a local level in order to win in today’s digital market.
Do you think the organizations in the digital out-of-home field are fulfilling their roles of promoting the industry? What would you suggest that they do that they are not currently doing?
The spotlight on location opens a huge opportunity for DOOH companies to become more innovative; however, there is a lot of education needed first.
Brand interest in location-based advertising is very high, but many are looking for help in understanding how to get started and what the capabilities are of these new platforms or new location-based services. There is a great opportunity to help advertisers understand how the richness of audience and location we’ve seen in place-based media over the years is now available across the digital spectrum, from online to DOOH to mobile.