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New Investment Series: Quikly

The Hyde Park Angels “New Investment Series” profiles our most recent investments by examining the investment process and the individual company’s future trajectory from two perspectives: the portfolio company’s CEO and the HPA leader who made the deal happen. 

This month we invested in Quikly, a Detroit-based digital marketing platform for retailers, in a Series A round led by Plymouth Ventures. HPA member Corey Ferengul (CEO, Undertone) served as the company’s primary champion to other HPA investors during the investment process and is now a Board Observer. We spoke with Quikly’s Founder and CEO, Shawn Geller, and Corey Ferengul, to learn more about the adtech investment landscape.

corey ferengul crop shawn gellar quikly

(l-r: Corey Ferengul, Shawn Geller)

Shawn, to kick us off, can you take me through your motivations in seeking venture capital?

We decided to raise the next round specifically because we understood our product, who our customer was, and what types of results [our product] would consistently deliver. We saw venture capital as a way to supercharge our sales. We could have continued to self-fund and break even every month, but we decided to accelerate our timeline.

Corey, what attracted you to Quikly?

As I got to know Quikly, I came to find their solution to really be taking advantage of the social media network effect. Consumers today trust their friends most for recommendations on what to buy. Advertisers are constantly seeking ways to take advantage of how social networking enables recommendations to be spread, but struggle.

The Quikly platform is tapping into that in a scalable way that I had not seen from others in the space. On top of that, I saw a very self-aware and smart leadership team. As a result, I wanted to find a way to work with them.

Shawn, do you think the investment landscape is different for adtech companies, and if so, did that impact how you raised your round?
There’s absolutely a difference. I always walk into an investor meeting similar to a sales call. Are we in a positive, negative, or neutral light when we walk in? I’d say for adtech specifically it’s been a market that has been somewhat beat up over the last two years. I think there’s been a lot of players. But we bring something different than they bring.

When we spoke with investors who were relevant in this space, I think there was this “A-ha” moment or “Wow” moment. We had success talking to those who were experienced in adtech. 

That’s why we were looking for [investors] who had experience in the same space, everyone who was an ex-CMO to a C-Level executive at an agency. Piece number two was understanding who we are today, where we plan to evolve to, and where we will be.

What was the advantage of taking an investment from Hyde Park Angels?

The level of sophistication that Hyde Park Angels has and depth of experience that you guys bring is very unique and very different. Your membership has tons of years of experience, and I think just in general, it was just a deeper level of experience and knowledge I didn’t see in the Midwest [elsewhere].

We have a product today, but we don’t know the outside factors that may affect us, so having that guidance is really important. There seems like there a lot of groups that say they want to be hands-on but maybe not in the right way, so a group that is willing to roll up their sleeves – scrappy, do it yourself – like Hyde Park Angels, is really unique.

Following up on that, how do you plan to work with Corey now that the investment has been made?

Since the investment, Corey [has made] plans come down to Detroit and sit down with our executive team to really help in sales, marketing, and product strategy, which is really unique for someone in his role.

We have several offerings today that we know work really well for our customers, but we’re still very much consultative in our sales approach, so we’re looking to package up our sales offerings in preconfigured packages. That is really important, and I think that Corey can really help with that.

Shifting gears, Corey, you’ve been on both sides as an adtech CEO and as an investor. What do you think is the most important thing that CEOs can do to build strong, successful companies? 

A strong CEO is a strong problem-solver. Click To Tweet

A strong CEO is a strong problem-solver.  The first thing for me is looking for a CEO that knows how to move out of “sell mode.”  I talk to a lot of CEO’s as an investor and they are all selling me, constantly.  However, we all know that everything isn’t perfect.  All companies have issues and market challenges.  To me I want to work with a CEO, I want to know how she or he manages an organization and thinks through the issues.

When I meet them, can they be honest and point out the areas they have to work on?  Can they give me insights into how they are thinking about the challenges and how they are considering actions?  I don’t expect them to have the answers, but I do want to have confidence in their thought process and approach.

Based on your knowledge of the adtech market, what is the best piece of advice you have for entrepreneurs building a venture in the industry?

Adtech is a hard market.  It’s not common to get long term-contracts; marketing dollars are spent quarter to quarter.  Also, there are a lot of competitors.  In this space you have to be differentiated.  Having “faster,” “easier to use,” or even “more scalable” products just doesn’t win.

Don't focus on tech or specs. Focus on the results for the advertisers, brands and agencies. Click To Tweet

You have to be able to show a marketer that you can help them reach a consumer in a new and different way that will cause them to stand out from the crowd. That you are a path to the brand selling more product. Don’t focus on tech. Don’t focus on specs. Focus on the results for the advertisers, brands and agencies.