Kean Graham is the founder and CEO of MonetizeMore, a company that provides technology for Google AdSense websites to help users monetize traffic. Graham started the business as a contract endeavor after a layoff and has grown MonetizeMore to 100+ full-time staff based around the world and $17 million in revenue.
Why did you start the company?
I studied business at the University of Victoria. My first job out of university was with an online classified network. I learned all about digital marketing and how to grow websites. The job was an immense learning experience, but once the recession hit, the company decided to lay off the marketing department. 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. It finally clicked: I will work and travel when I want, where I want. I decided I had to start a digital business to enable this autonomous lifestyle.
When I got back, I met with my former employer. I realized the majority of their revenue came from Google AdSense. I could increase that by creating an auction for their ad inventory. They said they couldn’t afford to pay me a retainer, so I offered to charge a percentage of the revenue increase instead. They happily agreed to that. I set up my optimization techniques and the revenue kept growing. From there, I started applying my model to companies around the world.
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How did you fund the company at the start?
It didn’t really take that much at the beginning since I was only one person. It was partly personal savings and also this really good program in Canada called the Self-Employment Program. What they do is put you through seminars and help you through creating a business plan. It’s run by a small business consulting agency. Once you get through the business plan program, you have to get accepted into it and you get nine months of seminars on things like tax accounting, sales, and marketing. They help you start the business in a sustainable way and they also give you an entrepreneur allowance that you get paid every month to live on while you’re building the business. That helped me start the business without having to take out any kind of loans or credit card debt.
Managing the Business
How do you manage cash flow in the business?
We have a bookkeeper and an accounting and financial analyst that does the higher-level accounting and financial forecasting. We’re in the works of creating cash flow forecasting so we can essentially run a tighter ship, budget better, more accurately predict our revenue, and make more informed business decisions.
What’s the most rewarding thing for you about running the company?
Building momentum with the team and seeing the positive effects of this momentum. For example, we have a couple of team members who have been with us for over five years. To see where they are now versus when they started – They’ve transformed and are so much more capable, which is exciting to see. It’s rewarding to see the technology and innovation grow and create incredible ad revenue increases. Our technology is able to change the trajectory of the businesses that use it.
What’s the most challenging thing for you about running the company?
I’ve had to keep reinventing myself over the last couple of years. There’s a lot of guesswork as you try to conquer new challenges. That has been really difficult. You always have to get out of your comfort zone and figure out how to tackle things that are completely ambiguous.
What I’ve Learned
What’s the biggest mistake you made at the start?
If I were to go back, I would have hired our current CTO two years earlier. If I had hired him then, our technology would be two years ahead of where it is right now. Hiring him was a huge success for our company and he’s done great.
What’s the smartest thing you did at the start?
One of the most unique things that MonetizeMore has is that we’re a location-independent business. One hundred percent of the team members work remotely. We’ve been able to recruit unique talent because location independence is rare in our industry. The team morale is really high and turnover is really low because they don’t have to worry about commutes or working in a cubicle in a stale office. They can live in any city that they prefer. They don’t have to worry about daycare for their family. They can travel while they work. They have this freedom and incredible privilege to engineer their ideal lifestyle.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
I would recommend that you don’t have to get investments to start a business. You can bootstrap it. One of the best ways to do that is to go to another country with a lower cost of living. A really popular place to go for entrepreneurs is Chiang Mai, Thailand. You can rent a one-bedroom apartment in a good location for under $200/month. The costs of food and co-working spaces are so low that you can quite possibly live for under $1,000/month. You could even live for $500/month if you’re keeping it tight. By doing this, you can essentially extend your runway and give your business a better chance to succeed. There are a lot of great business ideas out there, but they have a tendency to run out of money before they have had a chance to succeed.
What’s next for MonetizeMore?
Last year we had 73 percent growth. We’re aiming for similar growth this year. We’re growing the team and bolstering our technology. We are launching a SaaS solution called Pub Guru. It’s essentially the Hootsuite for the ad tech industry. If a publisher wants to run their ad operations in-house and still have access to powerful technology and strong CPM performance, Pub Guru can offer this.
Photo courtesy of Kean Graham
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