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Sept. 17, 2020

Episode 046 - Sam Mallikarjunan, CEO of OneScreen.ai

Episode 046 - Sam Mallikarjunan, CEO of OneScreen.ai

Today’s guest is Sam Mallikarjunan.

Sam is the Co-founder and CEO of OneScreen.ai, a performance marketing marketplace that connects brands with people, not screens.

Along with two fellow Hubspot alum, OneScreen.ai is taking the matter of measurability head-on with their Facebook-like goal optimization allowing marketers to choose between phone call, physical visit and onscreen conversions...in the real-world.

Not only are Sam and his team changing the game in how out of home is discussed by performance marketers, they’re putting money back into the pockets of small business owners and acting as great ambassadors for the industry. 

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Welcome to out-of-home. Insider today's episode is brought to you by led truck media. The truck media specializes in hyper-local street-level campaigns to get your message in front of the right. Whether your campaign is one day or one month with nationwide coverage, your campaign can be live in any major market within 24 hours.

If you want to reach your perfect audience in a truly engaging way, visit led truck media.com led truck media out of home advertising 2.0, thanks again for making today's show possible. All right. Without further ado, let's meet today's game. Today's guest is Sam . Sam is the co-founder and CEO of one screen.ai, a performance marketing marketplace that connects brands with people, not screens along with two fellow HubSpot alum, one screen.ai is taking the matter of measurability head on with Facebook, like goal optimization, allowing marketers to choose between.

Physical visit and on-screen conversions in the real world. Not only our salmon team, Sam and his team changing the game. And how out of home is discussed by performance marketers. They're putting money back into the pockets of small business owners and acting as great ambassadors for the industry. Sam, thanks for being here.

Thanks for having me. I'm not sure if we wrote that or you did, but I feel like you pitch us better than we do. Well, I think that we should all have somebody in our lives that can, that can sell us as good as we could. Uh, so I'm happy to do that for you and really excited to have you here because he was stemming back to our first conversation.

The thing that struck me was, wow, these guys are coming at out of home from a completely different angle. Uh, and I, I don't want to talk about that to get us there. Tell us a little bit about yourself and ultimately the path that's led you to out-of-home. Yeah, so, uh, I have been in digital marketing most of my career.

Um, I started because I w I used to host an AMFM talk radio show about cigars, uh, and the entire cigar industry just came to me because I knew how the internet worked. Uh, and so I started building. That's actually how I discovered HubSpot, uh, and learn marketing that way ended up working at HubSpot for, uh, almost eight years from when they were super small to post IPO, um, taught advanced digital marketing at Harvard university and at university of south Florida.

Um, and I was the designated constellation prize for keynote speaker. Um, if you wanted somebody from HubSpot to come talk to your class or whatever, um, the, so Andre and Greg who were my two co-founders here. We all met at HubSpot and we got together for a hackathon back in the end of March to try and find some way to help small business owners and.

Other than Andre's wife was a doctor. Like there's not much meaningful contribution we could make, so what's going on. So, um, you know, we built something that was designed to essentially turn every screen inside of small businesses in brick and mortar retail into their own like television network. Cause they're showing ads, they're just to suck.

They're not targeted and the screen owner's not getting paid for them. Um, and then, you know, Started digging into the out-of-home space. I've spent unreasonable amounts of money on internet advertising and done lots of internet campaigns, never done really anything in out of home. Uh, so we ran, we ran in reverse stealth mode called everybody.

We could to learn terms like, you know, visual out of home, digital place-based these things that we really know. Um, and that's what we decided to just build a platform ourselves. So we built an end to end solution. Small business owners, whether you're a big chain of restaurants or a mall or an airport, but you know, also the barbershops cigar lounge, where we originally had the idea, uh, they plug the device in and it turns them into their own little Facebook ads, like interface where advertisers can, you know, uh, put money into the pockets of small business owners, uh, when they need it most.

And just for the timeline here, you're talking about March of 2020. Yeah, we get the, we get that reaction a lot. Um, we were pitching somebody and they said, how big is your team? And we're like, at the time our engineering team was just Andre. They're like, oh, how long have you been working on this? And we're like, ah, four months.

Um, I know I Al I'm just now realizing how abused we've been in the tech startup world. Uh, because we're used to having much more aggressive deadlines and much fewer resources to do it, like much bigger projects. Um, but, uh, but yeah, I mean, we've been working really hard for just about almost exactly six months now, um, to get this stood up and launched in Boston about a month ago.

Uh, and then we'll expand. I mean, I, I think it's sprayed. I love that you, you, you have a non-traditional approach to it because it's, it's what you know, and you're just coming into a different space. And that's really what I think that the industry needs to grow the market share that we've always talked about growing.

So we welcome. We welcome you to the industry. Tell us what it is that you do exactly, because you're talking about goal optimization. When the rest of the industry is still talking about traffic studies and impression counts. You're talking about like real world measurable action. Yeah. So our big w what is really interesting interested me is, you know, out of home, Sort of feels like it's built for the enterprise.

On the supply side, we talk about the clear channels and the Lamar's the all fronts on the demand side, we talked about like, McDonald's the state farm. Um, but you know, the economist had a great article. Only 20% of the revenue from out of comes from the top a hundred advertisers, which is actually more like Facebook.

And less like cable network. Um, and you know, less than 10% of the screens are owned by like the top 10 sort of inventory owners, um, which is very much like the internet. Uh, and so our big focus was what do we have to do to make this useful and interesting to the people who aren't spending on that?

People who are already spending on out of home are pretty good at this and doing this 200 years. Um, but you know, the, the two main areas we focus on is building a new supply side with all these unconnected internet of screens that we can build. Uh, and then on the advertiser side, one is people who are local and regional mid-market advertisers who are gonna spend 2,500 to 25,000 a month.

And no one's gonna pick up the phone to talk to them. So they needed a self-serve platform. And then she was performance marketers. Um, so, you know, I optimize towards when I'm spending money spent over a hundred million dollars in the last 15 years on various digital channels, um, towards like cost per lead cost per up sales opportunity, cost and cash cost of acquiring a customer.

Um, and I analyze every single channel, every single campaign by those metrics. Um, because the investors give me a certain amount of money. I have to use it well. Uh, and so like I'm facing. Everybody's worried about truck drivers using their jobs to AI. I think Facebook marketers will do it first, uh, because the key to being successful on Facebook is just, just like train Facebook's artificial intelligence to say, like, this was good, this was bad.

And it learns and says, I should show what adds to what person when. Uh, in order to optimize for a specific goal. Um, and that's very much our philosophy here too, which is our advertisers set like a cost per lead or cost per coupon download or, or something like that. Uh, they measure that through our platform and they, that's what they are optimizing towards and that's what they create experiments around.

And they can AB test and, and, and improve their campaigns really, really quickly. Um, so if they can see this as a channel where they want to spend a lot of money, Yeah, Facebook and Google, which have become ludicrously competitive. The thing that strikes me is this is a conversation. The industry has really stayed away from measurability in terms of dollars and cents to the bottom line.

How do you know that this is. Yeah. So marketing is a subset of businesses. A subset of economics is a social science. Um, it's not a hard science, but it's sort of the old joke. You don't have to outrun the bear. You just have to pass out, run your friends. Um, we don't have to have perfect attribution. We just have to have good enough attribution that we're more efficient with our dollars as a brand than our competitors.

Right. So like, if you give me a dollar, uh, I can just invest that more effectively and gross then, you know, Marquetto or whoever was my competitor back in the day. Um, and we have had that conversation with folks and our philosophy is we're okay with you getting business from our platform that you can do.

Attribute to us, it happens on Facebook. Like I've so many studies, you spend a bunch of money on Facebook. You'll see an increase in organic search traffic, but Facebook doesn't try and sell you based on that. They help you optimize towards like the goals that you can measure with confidence, which is why they have really good.

First of all, advertiser retention, um, you know, digital advertising is the new rents was the quote from that economist article. Um, but second of all, you you're attracting. You know, these people were, um, ROI is really, really important. So it's not that like, you're never gonna be able to measure marketing perfectly.

Uh, and there's always going to be a world, uh, a role for just brand marketing, brand awareness, making your market feel or believe something. Um, but there's a much larger section. The $167 billion a year. For example, we spend online where, what they care about is do I have a high level of confidence that of the a hundred thousand dollars I have left in my budget that I'm going to spend those dollars in the place that's going to drive the most value.

Um, unless you start performance marketers, think, you know, they do brand advertising too, but they generally do it. Um, after they get larger. You know, an enterprise company, or once they've maxed out a lot of the, um, the growth that they can get from channels, where they have more of that confidence and more of that control makes sense.

So you're really, you're not talking about buying a network here. We're talking about buying the attention of a very specific person who's out and about, is that correct? Yeah, so I think I'm going to lose the battle, but I'm not gonna win the war. Uh, we, we will have to show the map of where the screens are in our user interface.

Uh, but the reach people, not screens philosophy is like, you don't care if I'm at a cigar lounge or if I'm in a doctor's office waiting room, Mexican restaurant, you know, if you want to reach me, um, you, you just enter me into the platform and you want to get me to do something, right. So what's your conversion goal.

Um, so for example, 3% of people, uh, do visit the liquor store. That's one of our advertisers and then go to work afterwards. But in general, that's super should know who those people are, but in general, uh, like the, system's not going to show you an ad. If it thinks you're on the way to work, uh, that's trying to get you to go to a liquor store.

Um, so it's, it's very much understanding who you want to do. What's the action you want them to take. And what's the context of the, uh, experience that you're reaching them in. Uh, and then optimizing for optimizing for that. So instead of the shotgun approach, it's, you know, um, surgery with a, with a laser scalpel.

And, and how has the industry responded so far to, I mean, it's a pretty abstract idea and you just kind of came out of nowhere. No one was no one was really prepared for it. What's the feedback then? Like, uh, Concerningly good. Uh, usually when I'm, when I'm doing a start-up or something, there's. A large, if not a majority number of people in a given industry who think that it's a bad idea or a stupid idea or something that shouldn't exist, we haven't actually run into anybody who thinks this shouldn't exist.

Um, we've run into some people who think it can't exist. We've run into some people who think it'll just be really hard to get like brand marketers to care about it. Um, which is fine because I see us as sitting in this valley in between pure performance and pure brands. Um, but people have been. Really receptive.

Our first screen that went live was actually a traditional digital out of home screen, outside of a Plaza, like a skyscraper shaped, uh, display. Um, and, uh, I mean, it's weird. Like the industry feels like it's been talking about this and they want, you know, they want real time control. They want the ability to buy in real time.

They want like really accurate metrics that they can price based upon. Um, and a lot of that technology has been there for a while. But it's been restricted to like mobile ads. And really all we did was took the fundamental tech stack that bill, that powers like mobile ads when you're playing a game or you're on your ESPN app or whatever, uh, and put it on a screen in front of you instead of putting it on a screen in your pocket.

And when we explain it like that, people, people get pretty excited. Right? So, so this really is the full expansive screens. It could be a screen and Joe's pizza next to the bar, or it could be a big old digital spectacular. Yeah, which is part of what makes us fun. Uh, so internet advertising has really only had two types of screens.

Like the desktop and laptop are the same thing. And then mobile devices, some are big mobile devices, some are small, but it's still a mobile device. Um, this has this sort of internet is screen. A bunch of screens around you. It has screens that you're passively consuming, that you're actively consuming.

Some are small, some are big. Um, it's actually been a lot of fun because people keep inventing these new campaigns, like doing a takeover campaign inside of a given store, um, or being able to, um, because we detect dwell time, how long somebody's been there, show them a sequence of ads that nurtures them down the buyer's journey.

Um, you know, it's, there's a lot of diversity and that's part of why. You really need like a machine learning based, uh, approach to this long-term because there's an infinite number of screen sizes and we can adjust the creative for screen sizes. That's easy enough to do, but that context of like a screen that I'm walking by, as I'm shopping with my family is going to have marketing campaigns that are effective in a different way than a cigar lounge, where I'm sitting down for three hours and, you know, not talking to a ton of other people.

Um, so that's been really fun. Uh, we we've. Every time, somebody finds a new way to break the platform. We file it as a, as a feature in the backlog. Um, but, uh, you're absolutely right. Like, cause there's just so many different ways that, uh, that people can experience and interact with the screens. Speaking of breaking things to, to, to build something like what you're talking about.

And in six months, I got to imagine that you break a lot of things. What was the biggest challenge of bringing this to life? The biggest challenge of bringing this to life was to make it easy enough that. Like, I, I love my barber, right. Uh, but he's not the world's most technically sophisticated human being.

Um, and we needed to make this easy enough that we could mail somebody, something that they could install. Uh, they just plug it into the HTMI port and walk away. Um, and then on the demand side, performance monitoring. Easy to solve for, but the sort of local and regional mid-market advertisers building a user interface, that's simple, making things simple and easy to use is a lot harder than making them powerful and complicated.

Um, and that's, that's been like we had a guy yesterday turned off his wifi at night. We just never occurred to us that somebody would do that. Uh, and so now, now the device, um, if it loses wifi connection will start resetting itself, turning its power on and off until it reconnects to the wifi. You know, solving for those edge cases so that somebody who's not technical can monetize one of their screens on the supply side.

And then somebody who's not a sophisticated marketer. They may not know how to decide what a CPM bid should be, uh, can figure out, um, you know, how to design, deploy, and analyze and optimize the campaign in the platform. That's by far by far been the hardest part is making sure. And how is it that, how are you reaching these small business owners and introducing them to it, your small team?

And it's been a short period of time. What's, what's that been like? Um, so the, the small business owners with the screens, it helps that we're starting in Boston. We have a really strong network of the three of us have been in Boston for the past decade. Uh, The it's also just a relatively easy pitch, right?

It's like, Hey, we built you. This thing that we give you for free, that you plug in and it makes you extra money. Um, we haven't really had anybody say no to that, especially because they can use the TV for other things. They want to use it for sports. The bowl is on. We can tell they're not tuned to our input.

They just stopped making money until they, they tune back to it. Um, so it's mostly just been, how, how do we get those conversations and how do we keep it balanced with advertiser demand? So as we get advertisers into, instead of just going and getting a hundred thousand screens, as we get advertisers into the platform, our is telling us essentially where it would have shown ads.

If we did have screens and then we're going and reaching out to those people so that we can maintain the balance between supply. Smart smart. So is this only available in some initial markets right now? Uh, we're wrapping up our pilot program in Boston. Um, then we're going to work, you know, w we'll expand on our own, but we also.

Give other people, the opportunity to, like, if you just know a bunch of restaurants and you want to order a hundred of these devices and plug them in yourself, you're more than welcome to, and you can sell ads on them. And we'll, if you have unsold spots, we'll sell them. Or if we have somebody willing to pay more, we'll sell them.

Um, we've really designed this to be something that anybody can. Uh, can create and extract value out of, um, so a lot of it's going to be us doing inbound marketing and inside sales and stuff like that. But a lot of it has just been either existing, digital out-of-home or digital place-based networks or new digital Playspace networks, uh, using us so that they can focus on what they're good on.

Good at, which is relationships with business owners and relationships with local advertisers, but still making as much money as they can, because it's not. Absolutely nothing. That's great. And I think that you've got an event coming up where you're going to be going through a lot of this, right? Yeah. So, um, the DPA, the digital place-based advertising association, um, have been phenomenal.

Uh, I'm not usually a huge fan of industry associations, uh, but they've got great research. They've been introducing us to people and, um, They wanted me to do a webinar on how to essentially how to sell the performance marketers. Like it's almost like we're speaking different languages or like the alien that's over my shoulder kind of thing, that different organizations inside of companies oftentimes.

Um, and that's really been sort of our bread and butter because performance marketers will try anything, uh, as long because they never want to be black. And also Facebook and the AdWords is so competitive. The average cost of acquiring customers up 50% in last five years. Um, because it's not easy anymore.

Um, but they, they just need like a different approach with any different analytics, different buying experience, et cetera. Um, so yeah, we're doing a webinar that you'll be able to find at TPA, uh, dot org on just like. How do we solve the couples therapy, uh, issue between pure brand marketers and pure performance marketers and help everybody be more successful by working together with the two methodologies?

I think that's awesome. We'll make sure to link out to that. So, uh, anybody that's interested can go and check that out. Sam, if it wasn't one screen, uh, what would you be doing right? Uh, so I had originally planned to take time off this summer. Um, uh, my, my wife jokes that I somehow became the world's most terrible unemployed person.

Uh, so when I, when I left my past role, I, and then I ended up working on this and ended up working more hours than I was previously. Um, But, uh, you know, I, I like teaching, I like speaking, but I like startups, you know, HubSpot got big. My, a lot of my previous companies got really big and, uh, you know, I just missed this, you know, the stage where you're super close to the customers, you know, I know every single advertiser in the platform and every single screen host in the platform still.

Um, and, uh, and you can grow super fast and sort of like the sky's the limit. So, um, I probably would have gone to some, you know, SAS company that's on, it's run from 50 million to $500 million a year. Uh, again, if it wasn't for this, but this is a lot more fun and you get to feel good, right? Like the first of all, a lot of pressure, like the restaurant owner, who's like, oh, if you get this to market, it's the difference between me like hiring another person or even staying open at all.

I'm like, oh, thanks for the pressure startups. Aren't enough pressure. Um, but like, you know, we're handing a giant check to a barbershop owner. I gotta find somebody print one of those, uh, you know, next week it's. It's cool. When you can find something that, uh, building a big business also has like a positive impact.

And, um, I'm not sure I would have found that anywhere else. So, um, I'm glad I found this. Otherwise I would have been selling you some better email tool. Well, I, I I'm, I'm glad that you found this too, because I think it's going to move the industry leaps and bounds and really accelerate that conversation.

So I'm excited to have you, I'm sure. A lot of folks listen to this are as well. Where do you go for, uh, education meditation, inspiration, your podcast guy, like reading books, trade journals. Where do you, where do you tap? I don't see too much in books. Um, because like I, I wrote one and I know it's immediately out of date.

Uh, there are some blogs I really like, uh, maybe I can send you some links that we could post them, but, um, understanding the math behind a business and the strategy behind a business, um, how that fits people like David Skok, private Brian Balfour. Great. Uh, folks, I like reading some. The economist, uh, I have the app that reads it to me because I don't like to read, I like to multitask.

Um, but then also I love podcasts, like Freakonomics and anything that helps me, like, think about things from a different angle. I'm I'm not worried as much about. Um, learning and understanding something that is specifically true or some framework or study. Uh, what I really enjoy is understanding how people have thought about markets differently in businesses and thought about businesses differently.

Um, and then how can I take that and apply that to whatever I'm working on? So podcasts and blogs tend to be my sort of go-to. Well, I think this conversation has certainly been that for the out-of-home industry. So thank you for that. Where can folks check out, learn more about you learn more about the team or some places that.

Yeah. So go to www.one screen.ai. Um, we always say the AI because we didn't buy the.com. Um, maybe we'll rebrand at some point, but, uh, we'll see how that goes. Um, but, uh, you know, we've got an about us page. I'm rolling out a blog article with some of these thoughts. That'll go live with our announcement with the DPA, uh, and then definitely sign up for that webinar because I'm going to put a lot of thought and time and effort.

Uh, into that webinar and not just reshuffle the 1500 slides I already have, because I think this is one of the most interesting industries I've ever looked at. Um, and it's just, it's just on the cusp of like absolutely exploding and, and I, and I'm, I'm looking forward to talking about that. So, uh, you can find this there.

Well, I know the ho the, the, the business development listeners to the show are very hungry for that. Uh, so I will make sure that they all know about it. I think it's going to be really significant and I'm excited, uh, excited to tune in myself and obviously to have you here, Sam. Thanks for. Thanks for having me, Tim.

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