Summary of Episode
#61: Adrian Fagerlund and Ethan discuss Linkby, a global two-sided marketplace connecting advertisers and premium publishers. They explore Linkby's role in facilitating this relationship and their plans for future expansion. Their conversation also touches on the other co-founders, Chris and Andrew, their roles, and the group dynamic as a team. Adrian gives Ethan a glimpse at Linkby’s unique hiring process.
About the guest:
Adrian Fagerlund co-founded Linkby, an ad tech platform that helps advertisers achieve more editorial coverage through cost-per-click press releases sent to premium publishers. Before Linkby, Adrian worked at PedestrianTV, a 24/7 pop culture news site. He continued to work there after it was sold to Nine, Australia’s largest locally-owned media company, and left in February 2020.
Podcast Episode Notes
What is Linkby? [1:01]
Adrian explains the problem Linkby solves. [2:14]
Adrian identifies who the advertisers are trying to work with publishers. [3:24]
Adrian discusses the benefits and reasons for advertisers to get mentioned or noticed by premium publishers. [4:43]
What role does Linkby play in the relationship between advertiser and publisher? Is there more hands-on work Linkby does with the advertisers and publishers? [7:47]
Adrian talks about the importance and innovation of the tech side of Linkby. [9:41]
Adrian discusses the roles of Chris and Andrew, the other co-founders of Linkby, and how they make decisions. [12:36]
How did Adrien and Chris meet Andrew? [14:46]
If Linkby had a fourth co-founder, what would their skill set be?[15:20]
Adrian talks about Linkby becoming global and solving a problem globally. [18:07]
Adrian recalls Linkby starting and building in Australia before expanding to the UK, then to the US and Canada. [19:51]
Why is Australia a good test market? [21:33]
Is Australia a good place for smaller companies to test, or should they do it in their own backyard first? Adrian discusses some hurdles in shipping and export in Australia. [22:36]
Adrian explains some of the tweaks they have made for other geos. [24:34]
Ethan and Adrian talk about Adrian’s frequent traveling. [26:45]
What is the research and strategy for different geos when expanding somewhere new? [27:22]
How do they make decisions about what geo to expand to next? [29:52]
Adrian explains how they have recruited and built out their strong team. [31: 52]
Adrian elaborates on their hiring process and determining who will be a good fit. [33:46]
Ethan and Adrian discuss “the test” used in their hiring process. [36:20]
What is your number one piece of advice for early-stage entrepreneurs? [40:21]
Adrian talks about the future of Linkby and rolling out a new product globally. [42:49]
Adrian expresses that progression is key and has fun with it. [44:33]
How to support Linkby and where to connect. [45:52]
Full Interview Transcript
Ethan Peyton: Hey, everybody, and welcome to the Startup Savant podcast. I'm your host, Ethan, and this show is about the stories, challenges, and triumphs of fast-scaling startups and the founders who run them. Our guest on the show today is Adrian Fagerland. Adrian is a co-founder of Linkby, a two-sided marketplace for advertisers and premium publishers like Buzzfeed, Refinery29, and Forbes. Adrian and his two co-founders bring a ton of experience from their collective startup history, including Pedestrian TV, Australia's largest youth-focused publishing company, which sold in 2018. There is a ton more to say about Adrian and the team, but I'm gonna let him do the talking because I'm pretty sure he tells it better than I do. But before we jump in, make sure that you are subscribed to the podcast wherever you're listening from. That helps us to feed the algorithm and gets us in front of more cool folks just like you. All right, enough preamble, let's get into it. Adrian, how are you doing today?
Adrian Fagerlund: I'm good Ethan, thanks so much for having me today and chatting, I'm really excited.
Ethan Peyton: Thanks for coming on, this is gonna be an awesome talk. So let's start right at the beginning. Can you tell us what is Linkby?
Adrian Fagerlund: You said it. It's a two-sided marketplace for advertisers and for premium publishers around the globe. So basically, if you want to work with premium publishers of the highest caliber, traditionally that usually was pretty complex, especially on a global scale. Now we built a platform, which is a one-stop shop where any form of advertisers can choose their publishers, choose their budget, choose where they want to run their content, provide a little bit of a brief, and then each individual... publisher will then expertly curate that article for that brand and you can buy that on both a CPC which is cost per click basis so which mirrors how you work with say Meta and Google and now recently you can also buy it on a CPV basis if your brand advertiser really wants to make a bang across hundreds of premium publishers at the same time.
Ethan Peyton: What's a CPV? Is that cost per view?
Adrian Fagerlund: Correct, I should have…
Ethan Peyton: All right,
Adrian Fagerlund: Yep.
Ethan Peyton: Cool.
Adrian Fagerlund: I'm drowning in abbreviations, so I need to be careful.
Ethan Peyton: Hey, no, it's all good. It's all good. We're just gonna, every once in a while, I might poke my head in and say, what the heck is that?
Adrian Fagerlund: Yeah, I love that.
Ethan Peyton: All right, what is the problem that Linkby is solving that was not solved before?
Adrian Fagerlund: The original problem we were sent out to solve was the fact that, don't quote me on these stats, but let's say 90 cents to every dollar of advertising dollars is spent across platforms like Meta, Facebook, Instagram, and Google. And for publishers, they traditionally used to work with a lot of blue-chip clients with big budgets, long turnarounds. So what we wanted to do is to create a way for advertisers, no matter what the size of the advertiser. similarly easy way to work with premium publishing. So, that's what we set up originally to do and that's how we started our first core product which is the CPC cost per click-based product where again you just create a brief, you set that budget, you set the CPC yourself, and then choose the publishers and you're off to the races of having dedicated content on some of the most desired publishers in the world. And then as we've moved into more products we now again I'm repeating myself but we are offering a CPV product cost per view. Which again suits any type of advertiser that wants to quickly and on scale and measurably work with premium publishers.
Ethan Peyton: So these advertisers out there, are these online stores? Or are they… Who are these advertisers that are trying to work with these publishers?
Adrian Fagerlund: I'd say predominantly it's D-to-C advertisers, direct-to-consumer advertisers. So I think our biggest segments are beauty products, for example, we work with everybody from Nivea down to challenging brands that are built in someone's home during COVID, for example, and now they're getting serious, they're seeing sales, and they wanna be talked about, like about Vogue and Harper's Bazaar and InStyle and publishers like that, we can facilitate for them. Then we have categories like health is a big one for us, home is another big one. We even work with categories that are blocked from working with channels like Meta and Google, such as CBD-based products in America, even THC-based products, sexual wellness, which has a hard time on Meta, and the like. We can welcome them and help them facilitate really hard-hitting content, which is, at the core, performance-based, similar to, again, Meta and Google. It's opened up a new door to those kinds of categories as well. But I'd say our biggest are beauty, home, tech, and fashion. It's probably our biggest categories.
Ethan Peyton: Gotcha. And so these folks are, I'm assuming that the main reason that they're trying to get these articles or a name mention or something like that on these larger brands is to get people to click over and make a purchase. Is that the main reason or is there anything on the side that you think is a benefit that these advertisers are looking for?
Adrian Fagerlund: Great question, Ethan. It comes down to, you know, if you're gonna go all the way back to marketing 101, if you look at the marketing funnel, the top layer is awareness, which traditionally was where publishers play. So you get talked about by a publisher, there's not an action required on the end of it, it's really about building the name of the brand, building the buzz if you will. We do that on true scale, but with the kicker of also playing in the lowest part of the marketing funnel, which is conversion. Because of the CPC model, the cost per click model, the only cost to the advertiser is when someone has gone to their favorite publisher, discovered an article dedicated about the brand, why the publisher looks at the brand, and what sets them apart from their competition. And it's only if they still then are so interested that they're willing to leave their favorite publisher's site and go into the brand site wherever they want to drive them, that's the only time the CPC is triggered and it's a cost to the advertiser. So It really changes the game in the sense that brands can build recognizability, brand trust is another thing. It's a jungle…
Ethan Peyton: Huge.
Adrian Fagerlund: Out there with advertisers that can very easily advertise on all these channels that we've been discussing, but what sets them apart? A premium publisher won't accept a brief about some come, what do you call them, be here one day and be gone the next day kind of brand. We still help these brands to really lift out what sets them apart, what their passion is, how they're changing the world so to speak, and then again the advertisers choose, sorry the publishers choose to what to write about, how to write about it as well to be as appealing to their audience as possible and in effect they are building their awareness on mass and they're building the brand trust because unlike an ad it's not the brand itself saying hey look how amazing we are we do all these fantastic things it is now one of the most trusted voices there are, these premium publishing editors, that people actively seek out for their advice, telling them why they're in love with this brand and why you should seek it out. So you're building the brand awareness on mass scale, you're building the brand trust, you're setting yourself apart from social brands, so to speak. And what we tend to see to happen is that the expression is the tide races all ships, which means once you start being talked about all these premium publishers around the world, when you then retarget your audience on the performance channels, you're now that brand that everybody's talking about. So it has positive flow over effect. And there's things like SEO and things like that that's a nice flow effect as well. It's not the core of what we do, but it sure helps to be talked about by every publisher in the world. And they know what they're doing when it comes to SEO. So that's, again, a nice flow or effect as well.
Ethan Peyton: So what role does Linkby play in this relationship? Is it just the marketplace where the advertiser is introduced to the publisher? Or it sounds like maybe there's a bit more hands-on work with these advertisers and maybe with the publishers as well. What's the role that you guys play in that?
Adrian Fagerlund: Yeah, I'm loving these questions, Ethan. Very, very insightful. Yes, there's more to it. So the platform, it facilitates the relationship, right? So you don't need to speak to each individual publisher. You don't need a credit line. You don't need to speak to a sales team. You use our platform. But then, behind closed doors, so to speak, that's where my team and where we really do our hard work, which is we help the brands, sometimes from get-go. What is a brief? How do you write a brief? Some of these brands are... brand new into content creation. Some of them know exactly what we do. We work with affiliate networks and media agencies of the highest caliber, but we still help there in terms of perfecting the Linkby brief. Every single brief that then gets submitted gets reviewed by our content team. We want to make sure that we help brands send the best possible brief straight to the publisher. So we review there. We always work with the brands to get the most out of the brief on that stage. Then... We have a dedicated publishing team, a global team based in New York, but in every market that we're in, that also helps the publishers get the most out of it. It involves speaking to them on a daily basis, working with what briefs is on the platform, helping them get anything that they're missing before they start the process of creating the content. So yes, you guessed it. There's a lot going on behind the scenes with this, which is all the human touch, if you will, because at the end of the day, it's content, it's creative, it needs to work. It can't just be copy pasted and popped into chat GTP just yet. So…
Ethan Peyton: Not quite yet. We're almost there.
Adrian Fagerlund: Not quite yet. So we're doing a lot of work behind the scenes to your point exactly.
Ethan Peyton: So we're going to talk a little bit more about your team here in a little while, but I'm curious what percentage of your team is working on the tech side, building out that marketplace and the feature set and that sort of thing, versus the, I guess for lack of a better term, let's call them like the content side. How many, what percentage of your team is working that content side?
Adrian Fagerlund: Yeah, great question. We have a few silos, we have a few specialists here and there, but the bulk of it is tech, sales, and publishing. So the tech team is the core of what we do. So our third co-founder, Andrew, he leads our tech team, he's our CTO, we got him in from day one. I recommend doing tech in-house, everybody hears it all the time, it is true what they say. We have a relationship with Andrew where Chris, the other co-founder and I will dream something on a Friday and him and his team will build it on a Monday. It is extremely liberating and creative and advantageous to do it that way. So I couldn't, I really hang my hat on that, that's something that's very fantastic. And we're really scaling up the tech team. We have, I forget the number now, but it's far beyond 15 where we have specialists of all kinds. They sit all over the globe. We are so spoiled because we can literally because we're global, we can hire the best talent wherever they are on the planet Earth. Which has enabled Andrew to build this incredible team where, again, we dream it and they build it. So it's a significant part of the business, but I don't know percentage-wise, it's probably around 20%. And the idea there is that we're scaling that aggressively with anything from AI people to data learning to data scientists and so forth. The idea there is really to arm the publishers. Because again, if you look at publishing as a whole... The true competitor of say a publisher these days is not necessarily another publisher. It is Meta and Google that both and all those ones that have skyscrapers of engineers and tech specialists that are working night and day. What we want to do is build something similar and then get that to the publisher to help utilize, so our overall vision is really to build a suite of products that makes publishers competitive to those people, to those companies, and also has the ability to do really cool stuff within the tech space as publishing has a little bit of legacy where they need to keep the lights on and keep their journalistic integrity in check too, which has to this point meant a lot of ads and all these things that you see on publishing sites. Our ambition coming from publishing originally ourselves is really to give publishers that tech and that those tools to... do exactly what they do best, which is create great content for their audience, and keep the lights on at the same time. That's the overall vision.
Ethan Peyton: That makes sense to me. So you mentioned one of the three co-founders, there are three co-founders…
Adrian Fagerlund: Right.
Ethan Peyton: What is, whenever you three get into a room, what's the dynamic like? Is it all three of you kind of have an equal voice or is it dependent on what you're talking about? What's the dynamic like when all three of you are in a room making a decision?
Adrian Fagerlund: Yeah, so the godfather of the business is Chris, the other co-founder. So his claim to fame is he started, like you said, in the intro, Australia's biggest youth publishing group when he was 21 years old and then sold out later, 15 years later. While by then they were running titles like Vice and Refinery29 and Pop Sugar and a few other ones under their umbrella. And they sold it to a record-breaking sale here in Australia to the biggest TV network here called Channel 9. So Chris is... again the godfather of the operation, it was his original idea. I used to work with him at Pedestrian TV, he pinged me and he said I got an idea, do you think it has legs? It was pretty clear from the beginning that that was true. We started working on the behind-the-scenes and then we got Andrew on board because again he had helped us build the original model of the idea and we're just like this guy is incredible, we need to get him on board. So in the dynamicness of it Chris has the final say. I cannot be more comfortable with that. He's the smartest man I've ever met in my life. No cap. And he steers the ship. I obviously come with all the insights of the day-to-day because I'm on the ground. I work with the team all kinds of hours of the day. So I add a lot of insight to what's going on and then we brainstorm on what we should be doing and then we do not touch tech. That is Andrew. He is the first, the second, and the third chief of all things tech. So the dynamic, in my opinion, is extremely clear and it's very efficient and it produces a lot of results. We have a really nice dynamic, the three of us, and yeah. I'm a bit, you know, I brew and drink the Kool-Aid, but I can high and on heart say that that's true.
Ethan Peyton: So you and Chris met when you were working at Pedestrian TV.
Adrian Fagerlund: Correct.
Ethan Peyton: Where did you all meet Andrew?
Adrian Fagerlund: So yeah, so Andrew, we outsourced the build of our first prototype. And Andrew was running an agency that did that. They specialized in helping startups get off the ground with their ideas. And then when we saw his work and when we got to talking to him and meeting him and he's a fantastic guy, we're like, we need to act on that. And we offered him the third co-founder seat and got him on board. So he stopped doing what he was doing and came on board full-time with us.
Ethan Peyton: Whenever you guys get into a situation where you don't all necessarily see eye to eye, or you would solve a problem, maybe even getting to the same solution, but getting there in a different way, how do you all settle the differences when it comes to making decisions?
Adrian Fagerlund: Personally, again, it's gonna sound a bit funny, but with Chris, the CEO Chris, the original founder, so to speak, he is much smarter than I am.
Ethan Peyton: Hehehe
Adrian Fagerlund: There's no debate about that. So when we do have a difference of opinion, what it normally does, and this is the mature Adrian speaking, is I go away and I try to find how he got there, and 99.9%, that's the right way to get there. So I learn a lot from him. So I've learned to bite my tongue sometimes and then go away, process the information he's given me, and time and time again it turns out he was right. So I guess it works that way. And again, with Andrew, we can't tell him what is black and what is white. He knows that we do not. We don't have the tech competency and the incredible insight that he has in all things tech. So it would be a silly process for us to argue about anything tech related. It might be a look and feel thing that we sometimes discuss and we then, you know, we want to use this type of look and feel on the new side or something, but then what we do is we'll turn to the team, do a bit of a poll and then diplomatically come to the right answer.
Ethan Peyton: This might be a little bit of an off-the-wall question, but you've got three co-founders now. If you had to add a fourth, if you had to have four, just random number four co-founders, you've got the executive right now, you've got your sales and revenue and on-the-ground skills, you've got the tech skills. Who would be the number four? Not necessarily a person or a name, but what would their skill set be?
Adrian Fagerlund: That's a really good question I don't have an answer for because I think the Holy Trinity of the three of us, we cover those core pillars of what you just said. Is there another pillar? Uh… I actually don't know, Ethan. I don't know. I'm going to go away and think about that one, but I don't have an answer to that, because again, I'm slightly intoxicated on our own Kool-Aid, but
Ethan Peyton: Ha ha.
Adrian Fagerlund: no, I can't actually think of an answer for that. I really can't.
Ethan Peyton: You know, three is a magical number.
Adrian Fagerlund: Right?
Ethan Peyton: So I'll jump with you on this one. That works for me.
Adrian Fagerlund: Yeah, no thanks. I'm actually gonna go back to the founder team and see what they say on that answer. I'm actually gonna, yeah,
Ethan Peyton: Sweet.
Adrian Fagerlund: That's a fun question.
Ethan Peyton: Well, I'm glad we got you thinking. That's what counts. So then let's talk about the fourth arm that you already have, and that's the team, the rest of the folks that you've got on the ground doing the work. And you also mentioned that your team is global. What was the, I'm assuming that this was a product in Australia first before it went anywhere else. Is that correct?
Adrian Fagerlund: Yeah, 100%. This is where we are, me, Chris, and Andrew, in terms of where we're based. And this is where we cut our teeth in publishing before. So we leveraged that to get in the door. Again, being a new tech platform, the initial reactions when no one has ever heard of you is usually not always positive. So we started really banging on doors and breaking them down and getting in meetings and showing our vision and then getting a few of the Australian publishers on board. then onboarding the brands wasn't too difficult because it is a pretty appealing offer for brands. But to your point, then we got some wins there and then we're just like, okay, let's see if this is a global problem or if this is an Australian problem we're solving. And it turns out then we went to the UK, then we went to the US, then we went to Singapore, now we're in Canada, Malaysia as well with more markets coming. So yeah, our hypothesis was correct. It wasn't only an Australian problem. We're solving something globally, which is, again, obviously very exciting.
Ethan Peyton: Yeah, that's a lot of geos that you're in.
Adrian Fagerlund: Mmm, only getting started.
Ethan Peyton: What
Adrian Fagerlund: World domination is definitely on the vision board.
Ethan Peyton: We're just waiting for King Adrian to tell us what to do out here.
Adrian Fagerlund: That's right.
Ethan Peyton: So, I'm assuming you solved the problem fully and you hired the team fully in Australia before you started jumping into other geos. Is that accurate or do you feel like you got a certain percentage of the way there and then you said, hey, I wonder if this also works in, you said I think the UK second? [20:12]
Adrian Fagerlund: Correct. Yeah, no, we're definitely not fully mature anywhere. We had taken a big bite out of the publishing game in Australia before we moved globally, but nothing too crazy. We're still working on that. We now work with pretty much who's who in the zoo in an Australian market with the biggest and down to some of the smallest ones and everything in between. But then the second advancement, so to speak, is our product offering. We're so... Australia, like many brands know, is a fantastic testing market. And we can do things here, isolated and test, before we take them global. So we're really leveraging that. So now our second, third, and fourth product are all been tested and rolled out fully in Australia and now we're starting to do that globally as well, knowing very well that, hey, we're solving some demands and some problems here as well within these products. So it's a fantastic way to work, very advantageous. So test in Australia, make sure it has legs, and then adjust for some cultural nuance, sure, but nothing too crazy. But then when it comes into… then it goes to the UK and it starts blooming there, and then North America, Canada, and the US, biggest market for this game in the world, right? So once we get there and it gets fully rolled out, exciting things happen.
Ethan Peyton: So you mentioned that Australia is a good test market. What makes Australia a good test market?
Adrian Fagerlund: I don't know, it's like a little piece of land away from everything. I remember they were studied in uni, I think it was Coca-Cola that released some odd offshoot of a flavor and it just bombed in Australia and instead of spending trillions of dollars doing it globally they're like, okay, this is a good representation of what this type of world would react to this product. It's kind of that like it's isolated, it's far away from everything. If you really put your foot in it here, it's... not a big chance it's going to spread and contaminate elsewhere. So I just think Australia brands do this all the time. They test here and if it works they roll it out and we are so lucky because we're based here so we're very close to the ground here so we can test something, see if it works, and then once it's all nice and ready and we know where the kinks need to be ironed out we can just do that before we can go global with it at its maturity and its full capacity so to speak.
Ethan Peyton: So for other companies that are looking for places to test, let's say a company is based in Silicon Valley they're definitely not Coca-Cola. They don't have the brand, they don't have the money to do all that. I mean, and then on the other side of that, you've got companies like Linkby that are already in Australia, so it totally makes sense to test there. Do you think that Australia would be a great testing place for... smaller companies that aren't located in Australia, or do you think that they should try the product in their backyard first?
Adrian Fagerlund: That's probably don't listen to me in my answer on this one because I'm not definitely not an expert of that I think if it's a tech product and it's something that is not involves shipping then yes, I think that could be an effective way of doing a test without again starting the bus where you are ultimately aiming to take over so to speak, but if you are if there's shipping involved and products involved then definitely don't do that It's hard to ship here, it's costly. A lot of Australian brands spend a lot of money, time, and effort when they go global and we help with that as well. But yeah, there's some hurdles there you need to jump through. And importing here, there's some definite hurdles there as well. So it depends on who you are and what you're trying to achieve. But if you have a fully mobile solution, so to speak, not hand... You don't have physical things going on, then yeah, why not? I don't know the legalities around it either. We are fortunate because we are all Australian citizens and we get grants from the Australian government. We are doing things internationally. There is a lot of good stuff like that that happens. Again, not my expertise, so don't dig too deep, Ethan, but I know that's happened and it's something that's ongoing as well.
Ethan Peyton: I think you got me picked out, I like to dig.
Adrian Fagerlund: Yeah.
Ethan Peyton: All right, so expanding globally, you mentioned briefly that when you went into these other geos that there was a little bit of tweaking or a little bit of changing things that you had to do, I'm assuming to match the market that was there. What were some of those things that you've had to change in every different geo that you end up in?
Adrian Fagerlund: Yeah, it might be, you know, from my world, it might be a slightly different answer from say the tech team and Andrew, but from my world, one, you know, obvious things like you need to be able to cater for the currency in that market and you need to then reestablish a completely new set of relationships with the local publishers. Then the more neo things are how does agencies and brands work in that market? Who rules the affiliate space in that market? What type of content is standardized in that specific market, how can we match that or transcend that? So there's day-to-day nuances like that. Then I find it quite, you know, cause I get the privilege of going to all these markets and working with clients and publishers. And there's definitely nuances on say, how an average Australian person approaches work and a meeting and the tonality of it and how fast-paced it is in London, obviously New York as well, but then you go up to Toronto and it's much more like... you know, slow-moving and then you go to Asia and Singapore and Malaysia and it's a whole different kettle of fish on how business is done. So for me, that's definitely top of mind when it comes to just conducting day-to-day business and then learning to adapting to and excelling at dancing that global dance in each individual market which is one of my absolute favorite hobbies there is so it's very well suited to me. But yeah, sometimes when we do international conferences and stuff like that, we need to work with the team to really show them the ropes, especially if we have like say a UK person going to Asia or vice versa, there needs to be training around that stuff, which I again, very much enjoy. So it's a nuanced thing.
Ethan Peyton: And I know that about you, that you like to travel. It seems like every time we talked before this call, you were in a different country. And I was like, does this guy ever sleep or is he just everywhere?
Adrian Fagerlund: Not much, just answers, especially not lately. This year alone has been nuts. I just came back from Bali, I was in Malaysia, I've been in Toronto, London, New York, LA, Vegas, and it's been a year so far and we're only getting started, so i’ll enjoy it.
Ethan Peyton: Right, we're in April.
Adrian Fagerlund: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
Ethan Peyton: I hope you've got that frequent flyer card nice and filled out.
Adrian Fagerlund: Yes, best thing ever. Half of the flights are for free because I fly so much. It's fantastic.
Ethan Peyton: Nice. All right, so when you're going to these brand new geos that you don't have anything in yet, it sounds like you are going there, and you are boots on the ground, and maybe you're speaking to the different publishers and advertisers. Is that the… is that where you get all of your research from? Are these face-to-face meetings? Or is there other research that you are doing about the specific areas and countries and peoples before you fly out there?
Adrian Fagerlund: Yeah, so the methodology to date has really been to find a superstar in that market initially. So we'll interview you again. It's all done over video calls so we can put out ads, we put out our feelers. We actually hired a few old Pedestrian TV employees that we used to work with that are absolute superstars. So the woman that leads the UK market for us, her name is Kate. Can't speak warmly enough about her. She's an absolute superstar. She's spent a lot of time. She's half-British. So she spent a lot of time in London. She worked at the Daily Mail, she worked at the Guardian, so she had a lot of cultural insight in terms of what's required from the publishing side. We have a local guy in North America as well that had the same setup, and we hired a guy in Singapore who is very, very connected in all over Asia. So then it becomes them and I hit the market together in a way. They do the grunt work, not taking away from that, they're amazing. But then I come out, especially in the initial stages, to... Again, pound the pavement, set up meetings on both sides of the fence, and just go hard. Yeah, that's a lot of the reason why I travel so much as well. But now I go a lot to New York and Toronto and London where I have our biggest hubs for our teams to just be with the team, do training, spend time with their cultural things that we do with the company, which is very fun. So yeah, that's what leads to that. But the formula is set up a lean team that are experts in their own market and then add me sometimes into that mix and go and hit the market really hard from the beginning get the ball rolling and then it just becomes that snowball effect because Once the biggest publishers come on the smaller or similar ones want to come on as well, and once some of the publishers are on we just demonstrate to the local brands that hey, are you advertising in your local market and want a better methodology of doing that? And in best case scenario, do you want to go global? Are you global? We can very very easily facilitate content for you on a global scale and there's nothing else in the market that can do that. So it's a fairly easy conversation on that side of the fence for us.
Ethan Peyton: So you've given me a lot of different directions to go here and I appreciate that because I think we're gonna try to hit them all. How are you deciding on a new geo before you go out and hire that superstar before you get on a plane, how are you saying, okay, this is the place where we want to go next?
Adrian Fagerlund: Yeah, initially it was what's the best and brightest and biggest, meaning the UK was a pretty easy choice. US, of course, like who wouldn't want to be part of the US market and the trillions of dollars that exist within that market? But then it became a demand thing as well. So Southeast Asia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, India, all those countries is also very ripe for opportunity. publishing game is hungry there as well. And then now it's become this thing where we strategically plan European markets, we might go into the Middle East, there's other parts of Asia that we're looking at and so on. But now it's become a little bit of a demand thing as well. So we work with our global brands and they're like, oh, are you guys here yet? Are you planning to move here? And we keep notes of that. And then we get in a room and we strategically plan what is technically possible. So there's some markets that have... like the one that comes with payment and stuff. They are a little bit behind, so we're gonna wait for them to catch up. There's a language barrier as well. We have a few French-Canadian publishers and a couple other publishers that write in a different language. Now we're getting local ones in Malaysia, for example, and we are working with the tech team and with building a team that can help facilitate that. So that's kept us away from non-primarily English-speaking countries up to this point, but we're crossing that line this year. So there's a little things like that, but I'd say, you know, where's the ripest opportunity? And that's based on again, feedback from clients, but also what we know. We know that, hey, Germany is a pretty lucrative market with a lot going on. That's on our radar. So to speak.
Ethan Peyton: So, okay, so you've got lots of people saying, hey, are you gonna be here yet? Then you've got other ways that you're finding these places. Let's go back and talk about your superstars. How are you finding these people? I know you said that some of them came from the previous business that you ran. Are most of them folks that you know or people that are referred to you? Or are there other methods of finding these superstars on the ground?
Adrian Fagerlund: It's such a luxury to be able to hire someone who you have worked with because, you know, everybody's good in a meeting. Most people are good in a meeting and CVs can be real nice and fancy, but when you've actually worked with someone, so even to expand on that, so now we have the publishing lead who now lives in New York. She's from Australia. She's worked with Chris, the other co-founder previously for years and years. They work extremely well together. She's amazing. Pete, who heads up Australia, is also a guy I hired for Pedestrian TV when he was a little junior burger, Caitlyn again from Pedestrian, and there's a few other ones in the team that also come from that. And then that's kind of the ground layer, I think initially how we started. And then through referral-based hiring, so these people knowing other people in market through their career. And then as of late, because we're growing in such a rapid rate, we've done straight-up advertising, I guess you call it. And then it becomes a screening process of really finding this talent all over the world through this new normal of not actually seeing them in real life. Some of the people that we work with today, there's a couple left I haven't even met yet, especially in the tech team, which is bizarre when you think about it. We worked with more than a year together, I've never physically met. So it's definitely a new normal out there, but yeah, people that we knew initially, mix of referral-based hiring and scouting for, you know, top-tier talent is how we built the team.
Ethan Peyton: How do you pick out that top-tier talent? How do you know, I mean, just like what you said, you know, CVs can look really good, people can be excellent, excellent interviewers, and then, you know, not turn out to be anything that your company needs or is looking for. So how do you know when you have somebody who is going to be everything that you thought they were and more?
Adrian Fagerlund: Can you really always? I'm not sure but there's definitely things you can do to hedge your bets so to speak. I personally, so we have a process where there's a few interviews and also a test. Again it kind of caters to this new normal of being on video but when it comes to when someone has been interviewed by their local person and then they eventually get to me. I am a people person, sounds like a cliche to say, but I do say that that's kind of what I do. I speak to people and I read people and I try to form relationships very quickly with people. It's good old sales. But I applied that method to an interview as well, throwing a curveball there and here and there and really try to find out who that person is at a core because again, our products are pretty simple to learn about. They're pretty straightforward. You don't need to be a... tech specialist unless you're in the tech team of course. So I hire on vibes, which sounds funny when you say it out loud, but I really try to find people that have, there's a nice fit to the dynamic of the team that we've built. And then if they have experience within the fields, then especially the specialist roles, you know, within publishing and within content creation and you know, maybe in a startup experience you just, there's certain points you can connect over that help that journey. But that said, as an example, we have one guy in the North American team. He used to be a bartender before he started working with us and he now is smashing it. And I kind of got this feel when we were interviewing that this kid gets it. He's got a little bit of a steep learning curve in the initial couple of months, which turned out to be true. But once he got his head around it, he is cooking with fire already. So I don't gatekeep, so to speak. I just try to find people. throw them a few curve balls, do test them as we’ll like we have a physical test, a two-hour test that people get to do to get them an idea of, you know, what are you actually doing when you do the work that we require you to do, so that helps as well.
Ethan Peyton: What's in the test?
Adrian Fagerlund: It's an evolving organism, to be honest, especially depending on the role, but it's just, I think, to overcome that, like what you said, Ethan, is you can talk a good game, you can polish up a CV till the cows come home, but. Sometimes we've done that test and you're like, oh, if you're half of what you just said you are, you would have smashed this question and this answer and this creative task or whatever it might be out of the ballpark, but turns out, and then you go back to another interview and you start interrogating a little bit and then sometimes that story falls apart a little bit. So that's really the purpose of the test, to just put your mouth where your money's at kind of thing.
Ethan Peyton: So this test is out, it's kind of in between two rounds of interviews, is that correct?
Adrian Fagerlund: Final stage really unless…
Ethan Peyton: Okay.
Adrian Fagerlund: the test is not as good as we want it to be.
Ethan Peyton: Gotcha, and is it kind of like a, obviously it's different, it's different for each role, and it sounds like it's evolving, but is it like, I don't know, if it were pieces of paper, which I'm sure it's not actual physical pieces of paper, would it be like a packet? I mean, are we talking like a math quiz?
Adrian Fagerlund: Oh, no.
Ethan Peyton: Like, here, your teacher hands you a quiz, or is this like a, more like a scavenger hunt of like, hey, show us what you can do, go out and find all this stuff. I mean, what do we, what do we, you gotta give me some insight on this.
Adrian Fagerlund: I can give you one example. It's not indicative to the whole test, but one example is, because one of the things that we do, something, what I was saying in the beginning is we help these brands create briefs, which sometimes for them, especially if they're a young brand, can be intimidating. It's not about writing a full press release, it's about finding an angle to a brief to hero your product, whatever you've got going on. So one of the test questions is, here's a link to three different brands, they're D2C brands that are either on the platform already or likely to work with us. Can you write three headlines that we know would get a lot of engagement from the publishers? So instead of saying something like, oh, this jewelry brand has a 20% off sale, then they might come up with a headline that's this sustainable jewelry brand from Australia uses recycled ocean plastic so you can look fancy and save the world at the same time. Just by doing that, you're like, oh, this person has a concept of creative content writing. That's a leg up, right? They might not perform perfectly on that, but then comes the next question, which is about, I can't even think of one right now, but let's say it covers like, you know, sales mythology on how you, you know, transcend someone with a cold email and they smash that, but they don't have the creativeness. At least we as the employer then knows that, okay, this person is really strong over here, lacking a little bit over here, we can then work with them to make them a, you know, a full superstar, but we're going to need two months extra… blah, blah, blah. So it comes into that. the strategy of hiring in the way that we sample test the areas of where we kind of wish they are as competent as they say they are, if you will.
Ethan Peyton: So this isn't just really a test to see if you are good enough or not, you know, as a very black-and-white thing. It's more like you're kind of building a snapshot of this person and their skills and saying, hey, you're strong here, you're weak here, but that's great, we can teach here, or you're strong here and you're weak here, but we really wish you were strong over here. You know, that sounds like a pretty darn good strategy to me.
Adrian Fagerlund: Yeah, I like it. It's nothing crazy. It's not like Google's 745 rounds of testing and IQ tests and Rorschach tests and all that. It's definitely not that. It's a quick couple of hours at most that they do on their own time and send it to us and to your point, Ethan. That's exactly what we do with it. We do a SWOT analysis of the candidate.
Ethan Peyton: All right, and I'm not gonna make you answer what's a SWOT analysis. If anybody wants to know what a SWOT analysis is, go Google it, there's a lot to be gained from that. Just go check it out, S-W-O-T. All right, Adrian, I'm gonna move on to my favorite question in all of these questions, and that is, what is your number one piece of advice for early-stage entrepreneurs?
Adrian Fagerlund: You know when you're about to say something you know is like a cliche of all cliches?
Ethan Peyton: I love cliches.
Adrian Fagerlund: I bet most things are cliches because they are true, I guess.
Ethan Peyton: Absolutely.
Adrian Fagerlund: And it's the people, right? So back to speaking about Andrew and Chris, that's what makes this company. That is the foundation, the legs of this whole company. Without Chris, without Andrew, this would never have worked. So I think having a real thing early on... Who am I as a founder? What do I possess in my skill set and my network and whatever nuance that you need for a successful business to work? And then be self-critical in a way and to go, who do I need to make this work? And be selfish in the sense that don't settle for something that might work. In my opinion, don't pull the trigger until you're confident that you have the right team assembled. And then that kind of drips down as well because when it comes to building the team, again, saying cliches, so many cliches, is that you wanna build a team that can carry that vision and that passion, I wanna say as well because that's truly something that is an ingredient in startup world that is required. You can go and be a superstar at a big blue chip company in a skyscraper somewhere, and you'd be perfectly fine without a lot of passion, but I think it is very clear with ours. superstars and our leaders and our team that the people that really excel have that level of passion that they really want to make… make a dent into what we're doing and be part of this journey and we as founders just expanding on that and make sure that that happens through such things as we have a global bonus structure, which means that if we win everybody wins, we also have an ESOP program which stands for employment stock option program. So back to your previous question: Who's the core? Who's the fourth co-founder? it's our team is the answer to that because they all own a small piece of the company. So when we go to raise, when we get higher valuation and stuff, that means good things for everybody involved. So that in itself leads to more passion. So the answer to your original question is it's all about the team.
Ethan Peyton: You know what, cliche or not, I like that answer. So we're gonna take it. All right, so moving into the end here, can you tell us what's next for Linkby? Do you have anything awesome on the horizon? I'm sure you're gonna enter into 17 or 18 more geos in the next week or so. But do you got anything else going on for us?
Adrian Fagerlund: Yeah, I kind of hinted in the beginning, but we're very excited about our new product that opens up our platform to any type of advertiser, performance, brand, whatever you got going on, we can cater for that now. And we're rolling that out globally now after testing it in Australia and for a very successful test, which is super exciting. That's definitely the highest priority right now. To your point, Ethan, we are keep on expanding globally into new markets. We are all over the world. So if anyone listening is around the conferences, whether it's PI Live or Affiliate Summit, or I forget all the names, we're always there and establishing networks and speaking. I've done a lot of speaking lately, which is super exciting as well. So we're just expanding slowly and surely by also not forgetting to focus on perfecting what's already there. I think that sometimes it's a trap. You get so excited that you just wanna push, push, push, push, push, and do new thing but you forget to perfect what's already there. There's a lot of work this year on the roadmap as well of just fine-tuning the UX on the site, the UX for the publisher, the UX for the brands, new functionality, a more effective way of doing XYZ internally. So we're really focusing this year as well as expanding and adding to our remit. We're also working very hard at perfecting what's already there.
Ethan Peyton: You've got a lot of things going on. It sounds like a lot of work, but you know what? It sounds like you're having a lot of fun doing it.
Adrian Fagerlund: Yeah, again, cliche warning… I do, once it's your own thing, and any founder can probably relate to this, once it's your own thing, once you, my drug is progress. That's what I'm truly addicted to. And when you work in this highly dynamic way of, you know, always pushing forward, working with these superstar teams, something every day is a new challenge. It might even be a new country or a new market, might be, everything's always new and it's moving forward. Nothing gets stale, nothing gets boring. I never feel like, oh, here I go to work again because that dynamicness, that progression, that constant progression is so addictive and so fun and so exciting that, yeah, I think, yeah, that's what I wanted to say with that. Progression is key.
Ethan Peyton: Well, I can hear the passion coming off you, and that's awesome. We've got one more question, and then I'll let you get back to the fun part of your day. Actually, we talked, it's like 6 a.m. where you are, and that's a little early for me, but I'm glad you can do it, so…
Adrian Fagerlund: I'm a morning person, so I like it.
Ethan Peyton: There you go. All right, last question. Where can people connect with you online and how can our listeners support Linkby?
Adrian Fagerlund: Yeah, so we made it as simple as possible. You simply go to Linkby.com, L-I-N-K-B-Y, and you go and sign up as a brand. It takes two seconds, there's no cost involved, and you're ready to go. You can request a demo from the team. Whatever market you're in, you'll get a local rep who will demo the team, answer any questions, work with your first brief if you wanted to pull the trigger really fast. And also for anyone listening, please mention this podcast, and we will provide our creative services, meaning we'll help you, from step one to step finished, and we will help you work with your, whatever message you got and create your brief for you. Just mentioned too, when you reach out that you listen to this podcast, and those creative services are for free. So yeah, come and have a chat. I think the opportunity cost of finding out more about how it works. If you are into thinking about content, if you're into scaling your brand if you wanna create buzz about any previous success, or if you wanna create success, chat to us. Ask us the hard questions. I'm not an oil snake salesperson. I truly believe we have changed the game a little bit. We have solved for a lot of problems that brands and publishers feel. Just come and chat to us and ask us the hard questions and see what you think. We are very open to feedback at all times.
Ethan Peyton: All right, folks, you heard it. You're getting to get a sweet deal if you go over to Linkby.com and mention the Startup Savant podcast. But that is gonna be pretty much it. And we are gonna put all of the things that you've heard today in the show notes over at startupsavant.com/podcast . We'll put a link to Linkby and everything else you heard today. Adrian, would you like the final word?
Adrian Fagerlund: I just want to say thank you, Ethan, I do a few of these podcasts but this one has been really great, you're extremely professional…
Ethan Peyton: Hey, hey.
Adrian Fagerlund: and you really had, you really excelled at this game and I love to talk to people that excel at whatever they're doing so I really thoroughly enjoyed it.
Ethan Peyton: Well, I'm blushing, but I hope that the editors allow me to keep this in because it makes me feel really good.
Adrian Fagerlund: We should.
Ethan Peyton: All right, Adrian, thank you so much. And we will catch you next time.
Adrian Fagerlund: Thank you so much, Ethan. Really appreciate it.
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Linkby is an advertising startup with a platform that connects companies with premium publishers such as Buzzfeed, Refinery 29, and Forbes.