After selling his online ad-display company to Google for $81 million in 2010, Michael Provenzano wanted to find a way to convince established companies that they could profit from offline ads, too. How? To bring the online world--with its real-time updates and efficient tracking elements--to the offline world. Using location data from cell phones, among other things, here's how Provenzano and his co-founders helped Vistar Media land atop the Inc. 5000 at No. 248, with more than $20 million in 2016 revenue. --As told to Lauren Aratani

There were a lot of dead bodies in the water when we started Vistar Media in 2011. These companies had promised to bring technology to out-of-home advertisements--billboards, signs in a subway or on a bus, basically anything that you see when you're out and about--but advertisers didn't trust them, and many of them ended up going out of business. My guess is they started too early, and they didn't have the right data to work with.


In my first company, Invite Media, my co-founders and I had developed a bidding system for banner ad space online. I enjoyed working in tech and advertising, but I wanted to see if there were any opportunities offline for disruption.

Digitizing out-of-home advertising--digital billboards, mall kiosks, and the like--is growing because it's more profitable. There can be eight advertisements on a digital billboard but only one on a paper one. We saw this and went out to owners of these advertising spaces to see what they needed. A problem that a lot of them were having was unsold inventory--advertisers didn't believe that out-of-home media could help them grow their business.

We knew we had our work cut out for us. Advertisers online can track the number of people who click on their ad, but there was no way of tracking how an ad on a digital screen actually influenced consumers. So we developed it.

Using location-based data taken from people's cell phones when they're out and about making calls, texting, or using the internet, we were able to track two things: where consumers are shopping and what they pass by when they go from Point A to Point B. Not only would this allow us to target consumers on the basis of where they already shop and the out-of-home advertisements they pass by, but it would also help us measure the effectiveness of an out-of-home advertisement.

So far, so good. We recently partnered with Toyota, and we've helped to increase its monthly average sales price. The toughest thing about being in this industry is being able to show skeptical clients that out-of-home media is a worthwhile investment.

Similarly, a lot of people were skeptical about our business, too. They told us to turn around. But we believed in our ideas and fundamentals and knew that someone at some point had to come up with this technology. So why not us?