Did you know that for three years in a row, Colorado has held the No. 1 spot for women-led startups, raking in $3.3 billion in funding total over the last five years? Colorado has seen year over year growth in the number of female-led businesses starting, and despite remaining an underrepresented group in venture capital funding, there are many women changing that standard and crushing the startup game on their own terms. We consider ourselves lucky to know and work with many of them here in Colorado, including Kelly Dotseth, CEO of Brandzooka out of Boulder, CO.
We had the opportunity to ask Dotseth what inspired her to start Brandzooka, what it’s like running a company that is disrupting the $500 billion digital media ecosystem, and how her team has tackled challenges of growth in an ever-changing advertising landscape.
Founded by Dotseth, Aquiles La Grave, and Alex Bogusky in 2015, Brandzooka designed their software make the digital advertising landscape accessible to anyone. With the mission of making it possible for companies and agencies of any size to place targeted ads on TV and digital media platforms worldwide for as little as $5, Brandzooka has been named on the Inc. 5000 list for the last three years running, and was the 2021 winner of Inno on Fire's Inno Picks category.
Simplifying what would otherwise be an enormous undertaking for businesses to interact with the vast variety of media sources available today, their platform allows advertisers to launch digital ad campaigns that engage hyper-targeted audiences easily and affordably. A venture-backed technology company trusted by thousands of advertisers across 110 countries, Brandzooka delivers effective and automated management of digital ad-buying with none of the traditional complexity, and their magic formula is working for brands and agencies across the spectrum.
When we asked what problem was keeping her up at night that inspired her and her team to launch Brandzooka, Dotseth explained, “we recognized that we were at this critical crux in time in digital advertising where most small to midsize businesses did not have a lot of avenues or options to distribute the digital content they were creating.”
While most businesses have the ability to utilize social media platforms, for example launching Facebook or Instagram campaigns, Dotseth emphasized that small to midsize businesses have not had the same opportunities to access more premium coveted inventory like placing ads on CTV channels, websites, apps, or audio platforms.
Most businesses have not had the opportunity to launch hyper-targeted, powerful digital campaigns on that premium inventory,” Dotseth said, “and this what we are trying to solve by giving businesses the ability to launch powerful digital ads wherever they want. The digital programmatic ecosystem is set up in such a way that you have to have really large budgets or a lot of media buying expertise to be able to operate in the systems that exists; we want to change that.”
BWB: “So, what you’re saying is that Brandzooka is tackling an accessibility issue for small businesses in advertising because there's a really high bar to get over the existing barrier?”
Dotseth confirmed, “there is a big barrier. Breaking into that ecosystem is challenging when you have to have really large budgets to play in the existing tech/service landscape. We say it's cost, knowledge, and technology barriers, and that all three of those barriers exist for businesses wanting to launch powerful digital ads. So, we came in and asked, can we knock those barriers down?”
With the goal of creating tech that is easy to use from a UI/UX standpoint, Brandzooka launched their platform intentionally without minimums or contracts because they are trying to make digital advertising as accessible as possible for all business types. Armed with the knowledge that the tech is there and the ecosystem already exists, Brandzooka is democratizing the digital landscape in order to help businesses tap into the most powerful tools in the digital ecosystem.
Filling a huge need for modern businesses since its inception, Brandzooka has quickly gained recognition as a premier digital advertising tool and as an Inc. 5000 company the last three years in a row. We asked if there was a defining moment or catalyst that launched the brand forward and Dotseth paused for a moment before reflecting, “it's been a series of smaller moments, and at the end of the day, we have been really lucky to be in this space that has been propelled by trends that we have seen over the last several years.”
She continued, “we have been well-positioned since the pandemic, as digital media consumption continues to increase year over year at a pretty astonishing rate. We saw those trends [everything shifting towards digital] early on when we started the company, and that has continued to hold true, sometimes at an even quicker pace than we or the industry had predicted.”
As society’s consumption of digital media shows no signs of slowing down, Dotseth recognized late last year that her team needed new product leadership. Which is why earlier this year, Brandzooka brought on a new Chief Product Officer, Rob McKinney, to tackle shifting trends head on. With more than two decades of digital industry leadership, McKinney most recently served as VP of Product Management at StriveHealth in Denver, where he helped build a team of more than 100 product, engineering, data science and IT professionals. During his time at Strive, the company secured a $140 million Series B funding round and grew into the nation's leader in tech-enabled value-based kidney care managing more than 56,000 patients.
"Having spent time at both Fortune 500 companies and startups, I recognized Brandzooka as the rare company that can immediately serve both," said McKinney. "However, for small businesses and solo entrepreneurs, it's an absolute game changer. When you always need more hours in the day and must put every single dollar to work, Brandzooka gives you access to self-service programmatic advertising like no one else in the market."
BWB: “The search for the CPO role evolved and shifted over time. What were your biggest takeaways or insights from working with BWBacon to find the right person for the next phase of growth for your team?”
Without hesitation, Dotseth said, “Rob has been a phenomenal fit for the role. The BWBacon team worked with us to really understand where the company was, where the holes were, and who we were looking for. In my experience, that is a big part of hiring. I call it ‘filling the gap.’ Understanding where there are gaps in the organization and how you can fill them with very talented people should be a constant assessment, and your team really helped us with that.”
As McKinney was already a part of the BWBacon network, Dotseth added,
I feel like the stars aligned in finding Rob, and the BWBacon team did a wonderful job seeing that through. I think it was a really good matchmaking process of understanding where the gaps were for us and where Rob's strengths were, and he has been phenomenal so far.”
When asked in what ways she hopes McKinney will take Brandzooka to the next level, Dotseth isn’t entirely forthcoming with the details, smiling while saying that Brandzooka “has a few exciting things up our sleeve from a product roadmap standpoint, but it's all continued iteration on the new product.”
At the end of last year, after rebuilding the core infrastructure and tech of their product base to get their team and technology ready to hit scale, Brandzooka launched a series of new products, including white label capabilities for agencies and Digital Audio which is now live on the Brandzooka platform.
Dotseth expanded, “digital audio is its own category, the newest entrant into this space if you will, where companies have the ability to place ads on platforms like Spotify, SoundCloud, Pandora, iHeart radio and in podcasts. That has been a really exciting launch for us as we have a ton of new features and enhanced capabilities on the back end, and we are working on other new features that we are going to continue to build and iterate on in 2023.”
We thought it would be fitting to end our conversation with Dotseth by asking her what she wished people understood better about advertising, and she quickly replied, “the biggest thing I would say, is that historically, the digital world has been really intimidating and hard to understand.
The whole goal of what we are trying to do at Brandzooka is to make that space accessible. I want brands, whether they are small businesses or Fortune 500 companies to understand that they can place really powerful digital campaigns and keep those campaigns running with tools like Brandzooka.” Don’t we all wish the digital advertising space was less intimidating?!
We're getting there,” she stresses, “but in the meantime, there are so many tools out there and tools from a digital ad creation standpoint to help businesses create really influential ads. We are on the distribution front, but probably the biggest thing is for brands to understand that there are so many powerful opportunities that are accessible outside of social media to get your brand out in front of the world.”
Need a boost for your digital advertising strategy? Check out Brandzooka and their easy-to-use platform to grow your business’ presence across the global digital ecosystem.
Here at BWBacon Group, we know and live what you are experiencing as an employer or job seeker in Denver, Boulder, Dallas, San Francisco, New York City or any of the other cities we work in. We believe great recruiting starts and ends with understanding people.
If you have any questions about living, working or playing any of the areas we serve, please contact us. We are happy to help. Seize the day, every day, that’s what we say!