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Q&A: David Brussin of Monetate

David Brussin of Monetate

This story originally appeared in our sister publication Keystone Edge, as part of a special edition created in partnership with Ben Franklin Technology Partners.

After a varied career in eCommerce, David Brussin felt he was ready to build a better mousetrap -- solving issues of security, personalization, optimization and responsiveness in the world of online marketing. 

He launched Monetate in 2008 along with co-founder David Bookspan, and the company has since grown at breakneck speed -- they now employ 230 people and have offices overseas to support their Conshohocken headquarters. 

We connected with Brussin to discuss the company's genesis, its rapid rise and the future of this ever-evolving field.

How did you end up in the eCommerce field?

I attended Fulbright College where I initially majored in both Computer Science and Music Composition. After a while, I realized that music was more of a personal pursuit for me, and I focused on Computer Science.

My startup career began in 1996, while still in school. At that time, I co-founded and served as vice president of technology for InfoSec Labs, a firm that helped Fortune 1000 companies embrace eCommerce without compromising security. We helped clients meet the technical challenges of doing business online and enabled numerous large brick-and-mortar enterprises to transform themselves into agile and respected eCommerce players who enjoy the trust and loyalty of their customers. InfoSec Labs was acquired in 1999 by Rainbow Technologies, now part of SafeNet, the world's third largest information security company.

After that, I co-founded and served as chief technology officer for ePrivacy Group, Inc., focusing on the challenges of growing and protecting email marketing. I created products to help email marketers increase response and conversion by protecting their trusted relationship with consumers.

In January 2004, I co-founded TurnTide, Inc. around a patented anti-spam router technology I invented. As chief technology officer, I also managed engineering and technical operations. TurnTide was acquired by Symantec six months later.

On the heels of the TurnTide acquisition, I found that many of the eCommerce challenges I had identified in my previous ventures remained unmet; particularly in the area of website testing and personalization. So, David Bookspan and I founded Monetate in 2008 to use innovative technology to solve these problems.

Can you tell me a little about founding the company?

When we started Monetate, we could all physically sit in a room together. We had direct relationships. Everyone knew what everyone else was doing. Those days are long gone, and now one of my primary responsibilities is making sure we all know what we're trying to achieve and how we'll get there, and establishing a clear framework for alignment across the company. 

As a CEO, sometimes that can be hard. Because you're involved in every area and have broad visibility, you can mistakenly assume everyone else shares the same perspective. After all, you talk to all the diverse teams and know what each is working on, so it's easy to believe all those teams are connected to each other. It's easy for you to connect the dots -- but not always for them.

The one constant in a fast-growing company is that the job literally changes every day. People told me to expect that when we hit 30 people, everything would sort of break: our internal processes, communication, etc. would stop functioning well. They said it would happen at 60 employees, at 120 employees. They were absolutely right, but I still didn't truly understand it until I lived through those changes. Every time the company doubled in size, a lot of the things that just "worked" before stopped working. I totally expect that now. I don't know exactly how my role will change, but I know that it will. So what I'm constantly looking for is to make sure I'm not doing my "old" job when the company needs me to do the new one.

On the other hand, no matter how large we get, my job will still focus on the three big areas I listed. It's the details of how you actually impact your people, your mission and your company's personality that constantly changes.

When starting the company, what were the inefficiencies you saw in the market? How did you think you could service companies?

We were once told by an executive at a major retailer: "I can make a change to the signs in our physical stores more quickly and less expensively than I can change something on our website." This inspired us to deliver on the original promise of the commercial internet -- one to one marketing that would improve the customer experience and provide ROI to retailers. I wanted to create a platform that allowed retailers to successfully serve each individual customer, rather than force them into one-size-fits-all marketing.

What is your marketing philosophy? What do businesses often do wrong?

Listen to your customers; but more importantly, treat them with respect. I believe that when the customer wins, the marketer wins, and that by having respectful, authentic and truly helpful conversations with customers, marketers will build great -- and valuable -- relationships.

How has internet marketing changed in the last 5 to 10 years?

When I think about where marketing is today, it's still in broadcast mode. That difference is stark, kind of shocking, and disturbing to the customer. Hearing from brands [rather than having a conversation], it kind of feels impersonal and robotic. Marketers have realized they have to fundamentally change their approach to marketing. The challenge is that marketers are still stuck with their own tools. What they really have is a broadcast tool set. They know their brands have to change to survive and thrive.

What resources have you taken advantage of to grow the company in Pennsylvania?
Monetate has been lucky to start and grow in Pennsylvania. The support of the community broadly, and of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania in particular, has been fantastic. As part of a smaller technology startup community than you might find in some other places, we benefit from tighter relationships with other entrepreneurs and companies in the region.

How many employees do you currently have? How many clients? How do you see the company evolving going forward?

It's an exciting time at Monetate -- we're currently enjoying a period of rapid growth. The company has more than doubled its revenue over last year and grown to around 230 employees.  We've recently expanded our London offices, extending Monetate's global reach further into Europe to include Germany and the Nordic regions. We also recently expanded our headquarters in Conshohocken. 

LEE STABERT is managing editor of Flying Kite Media and Keystone Edge.
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