Starter For Ten: Interview with Ivo Nota
The starter for ten series is a celebration of Advidi’s decade in business. Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing conversations with the people who make Advidi what it is and offering an insight into the work we do. Our aim is to cover the highs and lows of building a business in a hope that we can help inspire emerging entrepreneurs. We’re kicking things off with Chief Revenue Officer Ivo Nota.
You could say that without Ivo there’d be no BANG Media and Advidi. Back in 2009, it was Ivo that introduced Advidi’s founders and set the wheels in motion for the business we know today. It took a few years for him to join the company but once he did there was no looking back. Ivo is now the longest-standing Advidi employee. In this, the first in our series of interviews celebrating our Ten Year Anniversary, Ivo chats about everything from his early career, his time at Advidi, what the future holds and his advice for anyone starting out in the industry.
Hi Ivo, can you start by telling us about your early career and how you came to Advidi?
I started in the industry, about 20 years ago, as soon as I left University. I began working for a company here in The Netherlands, that sold ad space online. I did that for around five years and then felt like I needed a change. I got the opportunity to work abroad, for an advertiser based in the US, in LA. The timing was perfect for me as I always wanted to travel, experience another work culture and live somewhere else.
During that time I became friends with the founders. They were super smart entrepreneurs in the online marketing space but they didn’t know each other. I knew they lived in the same area -central Amsterdam – so I thought the least I can do is to introduce them to each other before I moved to LA. They immediately clicked and two weeks after that BANG Media was founded.
And when did you officially become part of the team?
It kind of started before I moved to LA. The founders wanted to keep me in Amsterdam but there wasn’t a clear role for me in the company. Besides that, I was committed to the company in LA and I wanted to go for the adventure and experience life and work in another country. It not only broadened my network but culturally, it felt important to experience business in a different area.
We decided that I would continue with my plan and go to LA but after two and a half years to move back to Amsterdam and join the company. Before the two years were up, the founders flew to LA and handed over the contract.
It was great to see that they kept their word so I decided to accept the offer.
When did Bang Media turn into Advidi?
The business was going well and we had so much traffic as media buyers. We had so much online exposure and lots of requests were coming in through the prelanders. We had exclusive offers in the US that were custom-made for us. With more and more people asking, we realized we had to build on this. The payouts we received were high so we thought we could take that margin and give it back to the affiliates. We could offer a higher amount than the advertiser. People knew these offers were going to convert and so that’s how the affiliate network Advidi started. It was an invite-only network for affiliates, we began adding the best to our list and that list grew steadily. So I came to Bang Media and then it turned into Advidi. Bang Media is still the mother company and Advidi is the affiliate network.
What was Advidi like when you joined? What was the ambition?
After onboarding the first few affiliates, we saw the potential. We knew we had a certain amount of affiliates delivering a high volume and we knew that we could increase that. There was less of a risk because you don’t have to buy the traffic yourself, you give that trust to the affiliates to deliver the traffic and create conversions. That makes affiliate marketing an exciting business model. So we started with a few advertisers in the US and then moved to Europe. We onboarded more advertisers and our existing and very talented affiliates were able to promote other GEOs. From there it was very organic. We began to work with multiple affiliates and multiple advertisers.
Any proud or fun memories of those early days?
There were a lot of fun moments. In the early days, there were maybe 5-10 people in the company. Our office was right in the center of Amsterdam, above a nightclub and our office was always busier than the nightclub on a Friday evening. There was always a big party on Fridays and everyone would just invite family, friends and people from the industry. We’d head out into the city afterward, usually, because the club downstairs complained about the noise! This really formed the basis of Advidi’s culture – we work hard together and we party and celebrate together. It creates a bond, a loyalty – it’s very special.
When it comes to proud moments, there were a lot of those as well. As we grew we were getting more recognition within the industry. When our brand, our network and our faces become recognizable well, that brought everything to a new level. We were not just a compact team of a few people, we became internationally known for the job we were doing. It’s great to be acknowledged by your peers.
What were the key turning points in Advidi’s growth?
I would say it was when we started to branch out into different verticals. We started with Dating, and that’s still very big of us. Then we moved into Health and Beauty. We had a big pool of trusted affiliates – a few thousand – and some of the traffic sources moved to different verticals. We already had the affiliates, we just had to find the advertisers. So, that’s basically the turning point of the growth. Multiple pillars in the machine in terms of verticals.
What were the challenges you faced? From growing a team to funding?
One of the most challenging parts was that we are an EU-based company and – particularly in Health and Beauty – you’re dealing with competitors and advertisers that are based in the US. So the challenge there was different time zones, less face time and, of course, cultural differences.
The other thing – which almost any founder will say – is that growing a team can be a challenge. As you become bigger you naturally have to become more professional. You have to move from a small team where everyone does everything, to applying a few rules and adding structure. It needs to happen, of course, it’s like moving from a speedboat to a yacht. It’s different.
The founders were all entrepreneurs and we didn’t have a business background. One of the key turning points was hiring a CEO. Although he didn’t have experience in our field, he knew how to structure a company, set up processes and deal with growth issues that come with being a bigger company. That was positive.
In the beginning, I have to admit, I wasn’t sure. Our industry is super niche, but after our first meeting I saw the value, the help and guidance he could bring to help us navigate any growth issues and look at things differently.
A big part of Advidi’s success has been its people. How did you create the culture?
A big part of our mission is people first and then profit. It’s vital to surround yourself with like-minded people who want to get the best out of themselves and the best out of the company. Essentially, you’re selling similar products as other networks, it’s just how you sell it to an affiliate and advertiser, and what additional value you are bringing. We managed throughout the years, to create a unique chain of services that eliminated a lot of headaches for our clients. And to become great at it, you need great people.
When building our culture, we wanted to retain the work hard, play hard mentality. We organise a lot of events in the office. We have Friday afternoon drinks, nice company events, and great company trips – We obviously haven’t done that during the pandemic, but as soon as we can, we’ll get back to that.
You usually spend more time in the office than at home, so you have to make it as nice as possible. We have a great space and an in-house chef – it’s about creating a nice environment for your team to work in.
What advice would you offer to entrepreneurs or start-ups that are still in their infancy?
Hire a CEO.
The entrepreneurs who founded Advidi are amazing, but when it comes to growth you need someone who understands the fundamentals of evolving a company. You need structure. The process of going from a small business to a start-up to a company is challenging and usually the point when lots of businesses fail. It’s so important to bring someone in who can help steer the ship otherwise, you keep taking the same route. And this is another point where the talent of our founders showed up again – the reflective moment of understanding that in order to scale they had to involve and hire a CEO. You have to be smart enough to know what you don’t know and hire the people who have that knowledge.
What advice would you give to businesses that are still in the early stages? Those businesses that are a few years away from bringing in a CEO?
Focus and communication are vital. Focus on one thing, make yourself the best in that specific part of the industry and master it. You can technically run 15 different verticals (or other lines of business), but they are all going to be mediocre. Focus on one and try to become the best at it.
In your experience is it a common error for startups to do too much?
For sure. “Oh let’s do this.” or “We can make more money here.” No, stick to one thing. One path. And follow that path and don’t take too many side steps. Because that also means you have to hire people, train them, and find the right people. It becomes more complex. Don’t try to do everything overnight.
Looking forward, what’s the ambition for the future? And what challenges and opportunities do you foresee?
We want to continue to grow as much as possible. One challenge is that the industry is constantly changing. That also provides opportunity. For us, it’s about making the right decisions and partnering with the right people. Rising to the challenge!
What will Advidi at 20 be like?
I don’t see myself working for anyone else. The longer I can stay here the better it is. The company has changed so much in the last 10 years so I have no clue what it will look like in another ten.
We made serious steps into diversifying the business and expanding to other areas, like programmatic media buying, iGaming, and E-commerce. We are currently developing two more companies in this area which would most likely define the next decade for us.
The industry is changing rapidly. That’s fun and exciting, and at the same time requires us to be constantly sharp and work on research and development. It kinda brings additional adrenaline not knowing what exactly is around the corner.
Does that make you nervous at all?
If you’ve lived like that for ten years, it’s what you know. You just have to go with the flow. The one thing that is certain is change. If you know that, deal with it and make the best of it. There’s never a dull moment – that’s a saying we have here in the office. There’s always something that happens.