Search Interviews:

Jeremy Weisz  15:39 

There’s two things I want to talk about. One is kind of related to that, which is culture. Because your team has grown a lot, obviously, since inception. And also, you’ve made acquisitions as well. So I want to talk about just culture in general, how do you maintain culture? Because you have people all over the globe? And then we’ll definitely talk about how do you integrate an acquisition, who may have a very different culture? Maybe not? So with the first one, how do you maintain culture globally, across everyone who’s all over the world?

Zack Dugow  16:12 

I think you need to make sure you’ve written down your values. And so for us, at Insticator, we have really three core values sleeves up. So no leading from afar, get your hands dirty, working smartly, intelligently, hardly 100% viewability, which just means we believe in, like, be direct, be transparent. And then be defiantly great. And for us for that what we really mean by that, that behavior is always be learning be challenging, be thinking, reading, wanting to go to conferences, wanting to learn wanting to push the envelope, and amp the pace. And almost that last value is so important for us, because everything is always changing and evolving in our industry and many others. And if you don’t have a team that is interested in being pushed and at times, like, challenged really to be uncomfortable to learn and to grow, you can easily fall behind.

Jeremy Weisz  17:10 

So from an acquisition standpoint, one of the ways you’ve grown is through acquisition, how do you find the integration process once you acquire a company?

Zack Dugow  17:27 

There’s so many important parts to that question. And I’m happy to answer and tackle it. And a part of what you would ask before about like kind of the International part of culture and values because we’ve now done and I’m excited to announce that we’ll be announcing this third acquisition, I’m happy to say here a company called Balihoo that we’re super excited about having them join us. And what Balihoo does is it’s a search and social, local marketing cloud technology where you’ve got multiple store locations, what Balihoo does is it will customize the ad creatives to be local based on like your zip code or where you’re located and the landing pages. And we use lots of algorithms and technology so that an advertiser can have 1500 store locations and totally different ad creatives, totally different landing pages, collect all this data to convert them new customers, new leads, and Balihoo is amazing team really excited about that I was out in Boise, Idaho two weeks ago to visit the team before we closed on the acquisition. And I was really impressed with their skills and the way that the team operated because it was a part of the larger parent company. And they have some amazing customers from like Kohler and prohibition. So we’re excited to use that as a platform to really scale working even more directly with advertisers. But the initial part of your question around integration is, I think there’s two things to do. And when I think about how we diligence, our acquisitions I’d like to flip it on its head now. And we do things very differently. Because most companies, when you think about diligence, you’re like, okay, what are the financials? What are the contracts look like? What does you know, all these elements that are like the CRM, that’s just naturally I think, where we gravitate, because every business can be quantified by okay, well, what are the sales? And so that’s something we feel comfortable to now, what I think is even more important than that, is who are the people? And what is the culture like? And so what I suggest anybody who’s looking at doing acquisitions, is make a list of culture questions, and go over those the team. How do decisions get made at this business? Are people very independent, and they own decisions? And they go through them very quickly? Is it very hierarchical, like people don’t own decisions anymore? They kick it up the food chain and mostly decisions get made by one person or two people. What is the culture like are people expected to respond to emails after six o’clock at night, or they’re expected to, if it NIMA comes in after we don’t want our team to be bothered, and our customers know that those things are so important, because if that way of operating is very different from the way your business operates, we didn’t have a big clash, and one of two things will happen, the people from the acquired company will leave massively, or you need to be very understanding and accepting and look at how to integrate the teams. And especially that goes double for like international acquisitions where the leadership is in a whole different country and timezone and way of communicating. So, we’ve done, this is now our third and we have team members in UK, the Philippines, India, Ukraine, and our first acquisition was that a lot of the team on the commenting side was in the Ukraine. And we had to learn, because even though you can align people and say, okay, great, and in any large company, okay, your Google, your Netflix got team members around the globe, as an example. And same thing for Insticator, you can have your values. But as a leader, you need to be mindful of what are like the cultural norms inside of that country doesn’t mean you’re going to adhere to those norms, but you need to be aware of them. Like taking India, for example, there’s a concept there called power distance, and it’s very hierarchical. So as an example, in our New York City office, it would not be a big thing for somebody for the CEO to sit and have lunch, and then there’s a couple of interns at the table, and everybody’s talking and having fun and laughing. But at a big company in India, you certainly wouldn’t see that you wouldn’t see what would be called like a fresher sitting at lunch with an SVP. And you certainly wouldn’t see a more junior person interrupting a senior person and going, hey, Misha, cash, I actually think you might have gotten that wrong. Let me help you. Let me help clarify. And you need to be aware of those differences. Or you will find yourself dealing with a lot of what we call internally like management debt, if you will.

Jeremy Weisz  22:05 

Yeah, I love that question that you asked Zack, about how decisions get made in this business. I love that. What did you learn from your first acquisition that you brought into the second and third that maybe you wish you would have known in the first.

Zack Dugow  22:23 

So, that no matter how much you think that you’ve learned about a business, or you diligence it, a lot of things you’re going to find out after the fact, intentionally or unintentionally, just by the nature of a business has been running for a while, and that not everything is going to go well. And so the way I kind of think about it now differently is make a list of all of the things that could go well, and all of the things that could go badly. And ask yourself, does this still make sense to do it half of the things that could go badly happen? Because they will, you could be the greatest team on the planet, you can be the greatest operators in the planet. And half of the things can still go badly. There can be customers who churn because they don’t want there to be new management, there could be team members who leave just because for nothing better than they like they see a change. They’re not sure there’s uncertainty. There could be integration system problems, there’s a whole host of things that can go wrong. And if it still makes sense, to do the deal, even if half those things go wrong, then I think you go ahead and you do it. But if it doesn’t make sense anymore, then I highly advise not doing that. And we’ve looked at and evaluated acquisitions where I looked at the list of okay, here’s the half the things that could go wrong. And that just actually doesn’t make sense. Because in addition, all those things, either such a big internal impact, your team will naturally become distracted, because there’s things they have more work on their plate for the integration. There’s so many things. And so it’s got to be worth all of those things and the distraction?

Jeremy Weisz  24:12 

Yeah. Is that something, do you want to be making a certain number of acquisitions? Are you always looking to make acquisitions each year?

Zack Dugow  24:21 

So for us, a part of our strategy, as a business has been looking at different platform ways to grow. And one of those in this recent acquisition with Balihoo was we were specifically looking for a company that worked very closely with advertisers understood that side of our business very well, and that we could then act acquire and integrate them in and expand that side of the platform versus just trying to grow a team like that organically and a product like that organically with one person then two, then three, and we didn’t think that would lead to success and in some way, shape, or form, we try that and didn’t have a lot have success and like, okay, we’re going to do one person at a time for that side of the business. So we have an idea of what type of business that we wanted to find. And then we’re opportunistic and keeping those conversations open. So to answer your question, it hasn’t been no, it hasn’t been okay, we want to acquire X number of companies. It’s been more is there a need for us and a big opportunity for growth like, with a business like this fit into our company? And if that answer has been yes, then it’s like, oh, okay, great. And we’ve always done or I’ve run a high level, at least around like, what does this cost to build versus buy? And what are the pros and cons of doing that? And so when you look at that analysis, and I think it’s a really good thing to run, it gives you a lot of perspective on okay, if we were going to do this internally, what do we think it would cost us do we think will be one of the likelihood of being successful versus if we can I have a team that’s already being successful on this, and having them be a part of our team and our broader vision? So I think that’s a better way to look at it less like, hey, we’re just gonna go out there and acquire for the sake of acquiring unless like, that’s your primary business, like, oh, okay, we’re an anesthesiology roll-up company, and we buy anesthesiology practices and cut the OP x and then roll them into a higher EBIT number.

Jeremy Weisz  26:24 

I want to talk about media partnerships, early on when you think about, not that I’ve made it, but like, wow, we’re onto something. How did you get some of those early on big media partnerships?

Zack Dugow  26:41 

That was probably one of the most difficult things that we’ve done it Insticator, because I think for any industry, people were very logo sensitive. So you start out with X amount of like small customers, and people want to see logos that are like them, right? So if you’re pitching a product to Procter and Gamble, they don’t want to see oh, you work with x and y mom and pop shop. And we found there’s two reasons for that. One is, if they’re a big media partnership, or something and the decision maker, there is x, y, title of VP of such and such, VP of product or VP of ad ops, or so on. You have to remember for the individual making the decision here, they want to feel comfortable bringing you to the table because if something goes wrong, they could quote unquote, be blamed for that. And so they want to feel like they have something like this, or something does go wrong. It’s like, well, Jennifer, why did you make this decision to bring on XYZ company, Jennifer can say, Well, look, they were working with Google and Major League Baseball, and all these other big companies. So it was like a reasonable risk to take, if you will. So we want to see logo. So for us, it was a very slow growth on that front, we started the business 11 years ago. So it was small publishers that got us to then medium publishers, that then got us to then some larger publishers, and it was only after we had small ones that we could get me in a month and medium ones to get large ones, even though we were pitching them the whole time, we weren’t able to secure as many of those until we were able to really like have more comparable logos. I found and in chatting with like my YPO chapter that’s very common, regardless of the industry, like people want to see logos that look like them.

Jeremy Weisz  28:37 

Which was the first one or ones that’s most memorable for you that you finally, you went from small to medium, you’re like, we finally got one of these publishers to say, and it’s like you said, once you get in, you know the products are gonna help them. But it’s just a matter of getting in and getting that social proof. What was one of those early ones that was special?

Zack Dugow  29:03 

So we work with a lot of big publishers across the board, I would say one that was very special was Major League Baseball. And the main reason for that was if you grow, we work with a lot of international companies as well, if you go across seas, like, has somebody heard of USA Today? Like maybe, maybe not if I live in Japan, maybe I do, maybe I haven’t. But everybody around the globe knows what baseball is and knows who Major League Baseball is. So that was kind of like a interesting, universal one that we could use as an example. They’re like, oh, well, if they got through that vetting process, which great work by our team, like, probably took us like, a year if you will…

Jeremy Weisz  29:46 

11 years.

Zack Dugow  29:48 

Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. Then oh, okay. Well, we could then you know, really look at this and see that maybe there’s a good opportunity here. So that was one that I think was very helpful because it helped domestically but also abroad also.

Jeremy Weisz  30:00 

What did you do? What kind of work do you do with Major League Baseball?

Zack Dugow  30:04 

So they utilize our constant engagement units and our SSP product. What’s the SSP product? So that’s more of like a back-end technology where somebody will put that on their site, and it serves ads into the experience based on what advertisers bid in the site.

Jeremy Weisz  30:22 

So if you can look at Major League Baseball, Evolve Media, and I like for you to talk about what you do with Empire Media. Yeah, what’s similar? What’s different as far as how they utilize Insticator?

Zack Dugow  30:35 

Okay, so Evolve Media has, again, like about 15 or plus sites, and they utilize our content engagement units, or commenting product, our advertising solutions baked into those products, Major League Baseball uses our content engagement units and our SSP products. So both of them use our content engagement units, and then they Evolve also uses commenting and Major League Baseball, so uses our SSP to different connections on those. But what we found is that we were able to drive better engagement for both of them better first-party data collection and better monetization. And then likewise, you’d asked me about Empire Media, you may have seen us on okay mag or radar. So they utilize our, and they’ve got a really amazing set of assets in that publishing sites, they’ve got sites like okay, magazine, radar, and then high fashion sites like Russia, which is like a high fashion magazine, and they use our commenting product or content engagement units. Also they’d been previously using a competitor on the commenting side that they switched over to us from a company I believe called Open Web that was very then helpful. And they’ve seen a lot of increases since making that change over to our technology and our platform. So yeah, and so different, some using the same products and commenting content engagement, some using other like slight variations on this.

Jeremy Weisz  32:01 

So how do the companies increase monetization? So you mentioned, they’re using the engagement, how have you found they’ve been successful and increasing and monetizing that.

Zack Dugow  32:13 

So one of the things we do so think of any site on the internet, that runs ads, you go to any kind of site, whether it’s Facebook, you’re on, or you’re on Instagram, or you’re on, or you’re on CNN, it’s all run by advertising. And the effectiveness of the advertising is based on the data of the users. And so how that data is collected. And it’s all what’s called non-PII. So non-personal identifiable, so it’s not Jennifer Jones, it’s female 18 to 36. On an iOS device, I think people get very nervous, and they talk about data. And they think, oh, my gosh, they have my data. But I think what people should know, it’s never like people are targeting like, Jennifer Jones, and she went to this high school, and this college and this thing and this thing, and they’re thinking about you as a person, it’s like, there’s millions of people, and it’s like, oh, individual is a part of these 200,000, who are targeting on iOS devices, 18 to 36. And they like baseball. So what we do that we’re able to drive better monetization for publishers as we collect a lot of interesting data points on the users. So when somebody answers a polling question, or they leave a comment, or even though 95% of people don’t leave comments, they read them, we look at what comments they read, so somebody could leave a comment about like a fashion brand. And now we have, okay, this individual is arts and entertainment as a part of the Arts Entertainment category, subcategory fashion. And then an advertiser will target them based off of that data point that we’re passing through that they’re interested in fashion. So as an example, without us, a publisher may just have hey, sends out and what’s called the bids from, hey, I’ve got these users on my page. And the average is going to be like, okay, great, somebody on an iOS device. And the way we make the more money is, we add an extra part of data, somebody on an iOS device, and they’re interested in fashion. And because of that extra data point, all these other brands are willing to pay more, because if you’re a Bloomingdale’s, now you’re interested in fashion, now your algorithm automatically or your rules in your DSP are willing to bid higher as a result of knowing that because you want to be in front of people that are interested in fashion. So we collect these additional data points, and make them available to advertisers. So we make the publisher more money as a result.

Jeremy Weisz  34:39 

That makes perfect sense, right? You find the specifics and then you can serve a specific type of product or ad that’s more customized to that individual. Right. So I love that. There’s one thing we were chatting about Zack before we hit record that I want to get your viewpoint on which is partner versus vendor, right Um, and you know, whatever business it is, it could be a SaaS business and agency, I would think we want to be viewed as partners, and not just another vendor. So talk about your thoughts on that conversation of becoming a partner versus being seen as a vendor.

Zack Dugow  35:21 

Yeah. So what I think of a vendor is like a technology a product or a service. And once they sell it to you, it’s like, here you have access to this product. There you go. What we tried to do it Insticator, and I think a lot of our team does a great job with this, big shout out to Akash, and Joe and Gary and Hunter on the team. And Ruben Aman is, what we do is in addition to our product and service, we try to help them and how they utilize our products and service, but also other things that aren’t even connected to us. So as an example, if a site is using some technology that’s slowing down their page, but has nothing to do with us, we’re going to point this out to them our CTO to me, and our lead adage be are great at this. And so we just want to help them in their business, even if it doesn’t have to do with our technology or our core products. And so oftentimes our am team will be like, hey, what are you guys using for your data management platform or your consent management platform? Like I can connect you with somebody? Or oh, okay, interesting, you’re recruiting for role, here’s some people we know that may be able to be helpful, I think it’s really taking a consultative approach to the products that you offer, and the way that you partner. And because you want to be able to help people independently. And if you apply that and your team applies that you don’t fall into this vendor bucket. And actually, I was on a great call, recently, this past week with Kohler, who’s one of our customers through the Balihoo platform, or excuse me not color with Pearl Vision, who’s a customer through the Balihoo platform, and they were talking about how much they loved the partnership and was in a real partnership, and that we want to help as a business, even if it’s not just our technology or product, we’re going to point out things to you that we see that are going to be helpful for you. So that’s I think, really important, and people really appreciate that. And those intangibles is what helped creates deep partnerships. And we’ve done that and had our team do that across the board.

Jeremy Weisz  37:20 

It kind of bleeds into that culture a bit and having an Ownership mindset. So how do you instill that in the team? The ownership mindset? Because they’re taking ownership over that customers site and results and everything like that?

Zack Dugow  37:42 

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, I think you have to talk about it a lot. You have to, really, you have to talk about it a lot. You have to empower people to really own the results and the decision-making and set that expectation. And you have to repeat it a lot. Because if somebody has spent 10 or 15 years of their career, say in XYZ company, maybe it’s some big call where decisions are made only at the top. And it’s really political, you’re kind of almost trying to have them like unlearn bad prior…

Jeremy Weisz  38:12 

You’re retraining people, essentially.

Zack Dugow  38:14 

You’re retraining people. And so it requires a lot of repetition for them to see, okay, if I make a bad decision, or I make a mistake, as long as I own it, and that’s one of the things that I like to stand by with our team is as long as you own it, you will never be punished for a mistake be like, hey, guys, I made that mistake. Awesome. Here’s what we’ve learned, we’re gonna move on from there to try to help people not hide their mistakes. You have them try to own those mistakes, and then you can move on and learn from those. So you’re not repeating them. But people then will see, okay, great, like, it’s okay to make mistakes. But so it’s also okay to own things, and make those decisions and grow. And not just that, not that it’s just okay. But that’s the expectation. The expectation is that people are owning those decisions, owning those outcomes. Because when you’re a leader, and you’re seeing a whole host of things across either your team or your whole business you want people to the faster they can make decisions, the faster the whole organization moves, the less that you’re the bottleneck, the less that like you’re the individual bottleneck, the better. And it will require a lot of calibration, right? Sometimes people are gonna make, really, different decisions in the way that you see them. And that’s okay. And then you’re just checking on that, hey, like, let’s calibrate, but you don’t want to slow down or stop decision-making. You just want to learn each time and have people calibrate and so they can understand and have full context. Sometimes it’s just that too, right? Somebody may have joined your org a couple months ago, and they don’t have context on something and you want them to have context by syncing with a colleague. The more that people make their own decisions, they own the outcomes, the faster the organization moves, and the better the organizations move, in my opinion.

Jeremy Weisz  40:00 

Yeah, I mean, there’s internal accountability, too. There’s external accountability, I’d love to hear. How did you create, and at what point did you decide to create an advisory board?

Zack Dugow  40:13 

Really, actually, early on in the business, I knew there was very specific things and experts that we would benefit, and I would benefit by having them help us. And frankly, the business wouldn’t really be here, if not, for a lot of those advisors who were super helpful to us, and had a lot of yeah, and these are just four of them. Dennis Lyon, Marcelo, Tony, all very, very helpful. We have other ones as well, who we speak to who’ve been extremely helpful to the business. And if what you what I looked for, and still do, and advisors is somebody who’s like an expertise that we don’t have, and that they’re happy to, like, share, and they understand the vision of the business, and you can reach out to them. And there’ll be helpful and that those relationships are remarkable, because with recruitment direction, and I can call some advice and be like, hey, here’s this really big decision I’m struggling with, I’d love your take. And I don’t rely on them to make decisions for me. But I’d love to hear their perspective because it can change how I think about something they can experience, share something we talk a lot about a lot in YPO. And hey, Zack, when I went through something similar to this, here’s what happened. And here’s how I saw it. So I really encourage people whether you’re on a small org, or big org, if you can find people who you like, and they like you, and there’s a good connection there. And they have an expertise you don’t have having them happy involved and have some upside in the business is only in my view, a very beneficial thing.

Jeremy Weisz  41:49 

I’m curious, Zack, media companies out there, who’s the media companies out there that you’re thinking, should be using Insticator that is not yet.

Zack Dugow  42:01 

Well, there’s a lot, I think there’s a lot of great sports sites, new sites, I think one is as an example, like, there’s like a Newsweek or Thomson Reuters are great examples of assets that I think would really benefit from utilizing our technology. There’s a lot of great, awesome kind of sports assets, if you will, and other leagues that we’re talking to, like the NFL, I think, would gain a lot of value. And in working with us. We also work with the PGA Tour currently, but people like the NFL or the NBA, I think we’d get a tremendous amount of help working with us, or publications that focus around sports stuff like Sports Illustrated, and others to places where there’s a passionate fan base or a passionate community. So we can help them cultivate and unlock a lot more engagement from those communities. And then that helps bring a lot more value to those publishers,

Jeremy Weisz  43:06 

Who is an ideal client? Do they have to be at a certain traffic number? I mean, as you’ve grown, what does an ideal media partner look like?

Zack Dugow  43:16 

Yeah, and I’ll tell you about it from both sides, the publisher side and the advertiser side. So for us on the publishing side, at least somebody who has a, let’s call that around a million pageviews a month in traffic, if the traffic is really small, like somebody’s brand new getting started, we’re still happy to talk to them. But if somebody gets called, 500 page views a day, they need to try to focus more than efforts on like getting their articles written and their content out. And so anybody who has over a million page views on the publishing side, and then on the advertiser side, with our Balihoo platform, any brand or agency that represents like a franchise or a store location that is more than 50 or more locations, we can customize those ad creatives and landing pages for them. So anybody who has 50 or more so if you’ve got 1000 locations so on that side of our business, somebody like a Burger King or McDonald’s, or a Dunlop like there’s lots of different companies that I think would benefit from our platform on the Balihoo side as well.

Jeremy Weisz  44:18 

Thanks for sharing that. Zack. I have one last question. Before I ask it, I want to point people to check out and learn more they can go to to learn more be linked up if you’ve been watching the video. You can see we’ve been pulling it up. Last question, Zack, one of the companies you work with, I’ve worked with is MMA junkie. And I’m just curious. You’ve done mixed martial arts I don’t know if there’s a, know if you call it a fight or a bout or something. What sticks out to you from your training incident-wise, from you actually doing it. And big shout out to my friend Craig Diamond. He has Diamond MMA he does the premium jock at the Joe Rogan has mentioned a couple times on the show, but he’s got some crazy videos with basically him wearing his cop and people just kicking him as hard as they can. In the midsection.

Zack Dugow  45:21 

So right after this, I have to see.

Jeremy Weisz  45:23 

I’ll link it up in this Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. What do you remember most from your training or?

Zack Dugow  45:32 

Yeah, so MMA Junkie, also is a customer of ours. That’s an Evolve Media site does a lot of great MMA fight finder and so on. So there’s two things that come to mind. One is from training experiences, one of those I was in a jujitsu tournament. And this is gonna go back, maybe so 11 or 12 or 13 years ago, but I’m in a jujitsu tournament, and I have the sky and a Camorra, who I’m against. And I was at a point where I was, I didn’t want to hurt him, but he hadn’t tapped yet. And I was like, I kind of like kept going. And then I realized after the, like, rough, kind of, like, thought I had gone too far. I was because he was in a weird position where like, I couldn’t feel it, or I couldn’t see it or something like that. And then the ref, like, jumped in. But that was just an experience where I think my gut told me too, that I may have gone too far. But like, he didn’t tap so I was like, in this tournament members watching and so I was like, okay, and that was just an interesting experience in that. I think you need to trust your gut, even when or especially when everybody’s watching and people expect different things from you. I think that’s important to do. So I think that was a really interesting learning experience. And as you said, fun fact. I’m going to give a quick shout-out to our lead front-end engineer, Troy Reese, so he’s a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, who has submitted George St. Pierre before so.

Jeremy Weisz  47:13 

Can we see that on YouTube somewhere?

Zack Dugow  47:15 

I’m going to ask Troy for the video.

Jeremy Weisz  47:17 

Okay. Well, how do you spell his last name? I’m gonna look it up.

Zack Dugow  47:21 

RISO, I don’t know if it was just like in sparring. Or if it was actually like, like a tournament. I’ll get a confirmation. I’ll get a confirmation on it.

Jeremy Weisz  47:29  

Well, if we can get it we’ll look for it and embed it into the…

Zack Dugow  47:35 

That would be awesome. Yeah, so we would love that Troy’s a very, front and center guy.

Jeremy Weisz  47:41 

Love it. Zack I want to be the first one to thank you everyone check out to learn more and Zack thanks for joining me.

Zack Dugow  47:53 

Thanks so much, Jeremy. Really appreciate it. This was awesome.