Starting a new business arguably is hard enough when you've got decades of experience to guide you. Doing it when you're in your 20s when you've only just gotten into an industry? Yeah, that's waaaay more of a challenge.
But it's a challenge that Adam Ludwin and Dominic Joseph faced with bravery. The pair founded search intelligence company Captify--which provides display advertising to web users based on recent keyword searches--seven years ago. At the time, neither could claim to be unparalleled experts in the field. In fact, Ludwin had dropped out of school, and Joseph's main gig had been as a professional drummer.
What Joseph and Ludwin both did have was parents who owned and ran their own businesses, and who taught Joseph and Ludwin that anything was possible. They also had experience buying and selling media. Ludwin had said goodbye to his university, but he did so to start a performance marketing business, and Joseph found himself working at entertainment company Mediacorp. That gave them some initial client relationships and industry connections, as well as unique insights about the challenges on both sides.
"We wanted to build a company together that would enable brands and publishers to overcome those challenges and build smarter strategies than previously capable," Joseph says. "At the time, there was a massive gap in the market, as search was completely siloed from display advertising. They were completely disjointed, but both sectors were huge. We thought to ourselves, why was Google one of the most successful companies in the world, and how could we utilize one of their core assets, search data, to empower the wider industry?"
And so, admittedly through "blind faith" and the idea they'd be able to "work it out" as obstacles came, Joseph and Ludwin launched Captify as a way to bring search and display advertising together. That unification enables brands and publishers to understand and connect with customers in an easy way that wasn't possible before. Today, the company, which has achieved 100 percent growth YOY, offers insights needed for effective ad campaigns to major brands like Adidas, Nike, eBay, Apple, and Amazon. Captify also currently works with 450 of the world's top-spending advertisers.
The journey to success has been wild. But the co-founders have already internalized a wealth of powerful lessons for anybody getting their own company off the ground. Joseph identifies a handful of keys:
1. Starting a business is a full-throttle lifestyle. "You cannot commit halfway and expect to succeed. You need to be completely dedicated and anticipate that it may take over at times."
2. You won't feel awesome all the time, and connection matters. "Be prepared to feel lonely, and like nobody understands what you are going through. You will face some of your toughest times, but having a network of other entrepreneurs around you will remind you that many of the challenges you are going through are normal when growing a business."
3. You have to be your own biggest cheerleader. "Nobody will tell you you are doing a good job. Just feel confident in yourself and your decisions."
4. You're going to make wrong decisions on your journey. "Live with it. As long as you can 'fail fast' and learn from experience, it will help you in the long run. This is especially important since you will have to wear many hats! When there isn't the widespread team of specialists managing different groups, you will all have to play many roles, and since you can't be an expert in everything, you will inevitably make mistakes."
5. Supportive employees are worth their weight in gold. "When it comes time to expand your workforce, creating a loyal team is key to establishing a culture of passion and belief that sticks as the company grows."
6. Others sometimes can (and should) take the helm. "You don't always know best. Maybe there aren't people who can do your job in its entirety, but there are people who can do aspects of your job better than you can. Find them quickly. Even now, we always evolve our mentors and advisers to ensure our decisions are being challenged, and we are learning from experts in the field."
7. Avoid basking in the glory of the past. "It's best to not talk about wins and focus on doing and achieving more, rather than talking about what's already been done. Don't be afraid to push the boundaries with yourself and do something that's never been done before, because those are the things that work. Throughout it all, it's critical to remember to always be obsessed with two things: differentiation and adding genuine value for your clients."
But the biggest lesson Ludwin wants to pass along is to get yourself a great accountant, as getting your books organized and taking the time to do detailed forecasting can make a wonderful difference in your ability to operate well. Do this while being open to learning more from your mentors and advisers, jumping on any and every opportunity to learn, and you'll win.
Captify's co-founders have had their ups and downs--they were frustrated during initial expansion when their growth in Germany didn't meet expectations, for instance, and they were thrilled in 2016 when top brands finally started to come to them and the company grew 135 percent. But Ludwin says they've found their niche within their business, and that they'd do it all again without thinking twice.
"We like to say that building a business is something we were both born to do, which is why we fall on the younger side as founders," Ludwin says. "Over the past 10 years, we've learned from our mistakes and developed from our successes, ultimately fine-tuning the formula for creating and scaling a business. We're excited to continue driving our business and developing initially as entrepreneurs."
So, no real experience? So what? It might not matter as much as your willingness to just take a deep breath, dig into your potential, and start.