HIGHLINE portfolio company Pressboard is an ad tech company that describes itself as a “story marketplace.” The Vancouver-based startup focuses on brand storytelling, and connects companies to influential publishers to focus on developing high-quality editorial content rather than traditional ads.
The company was co-founded by Jerrid Grimm and Tiam Korki. Jerrid has spent 15 years in advertising and media, and was most recently VP Client Service at Newad. He grew up wanting Angela Bower’s job off of Who’s the Boss. His career has since spanned mobile, experiential and digital disciplines, leading him to work with some of North America’s most innovative brands and publishers. Tiam is Pressboard’s technical co-founder, and has spent 15 years in software architecture. Prior to Pressboard, he was the founder of Gauge Mobile (acquired by Juice Mobile).
In the interview below, Jerrid discusses the challenges Pressboard solves for both brands and publishers, how he met Tiam, the value of mentorship, Pressboard’s culture and what he looks for when hiring, and the founders who inspire him.
Q&A With Jerrid Grimm, Pressboard’s Co-Founder & CEO
What inspired you to start Pressboard?
There are two things that drove me to start Pressboard. The first was my dad. He’s owned a business since the day I was born (literally). I grew up around entrepreneurship and always knew I would eventually start my own business when the time, and the idea, was right.
I started Pressboard because I had been working in the digital publishing business, and as branded content was becoming more prominent, I felt there was a lot of progress that could be made in the efficiency and scale within the process through technology.
How did you meet your co-founder Tiam?
I invested in Tiam’s previous startup, Gauge Mobile, which was acquired by Toronto-based Juice Mobile in January 2014. Tiam, his business partner Tony and I spent three years building that business from the ground up. Tiam is a genius, and I knew I had found a potential technology partner for my own business some day.
Why is storytelling so important for brands?
There’s a perfect storm causing major challenges for brand marketing right now. Social media has changed the way people consume media. Mobile reduces the effectiveness and available real estate for ad units such as display, and simply put, people like stories a lot more than ads. Branding is about forming a relationship between consumer and company, and nothing does that better than storytelling.
What challenges does Pressboard solve for publishers?
Pressboard brings in the right brand sponsorships through our marketplace, reduces publishers’ resource requirements though our technology tools, and gives publishers better insights into what works and what doesn’t through our story analytics engine. Pressboard lets publishers focus their attention on creating interesting, engaging content for their readers.
What has been your biggest challenge to date?
We are building a two-sided marketplace. On one side, brands are looking for stories to sponsor; on the other side, publishers are making their content, and ability to create content, available to brands. It’s challenging to make sure both sides of the marketplace are growing at the same speed. In Canada we were fortunate to onboard key partners on both sides of the marketplace early on. In the US, that is a more challenging proposition, given the scale and size of that market.
What about your biggest win?
One of our first campaigns was for Tourism Whistler. It involved key BC media publishers creating custom Whistler travel itineraries for their readers. The campaign went well, with the stories far exceeding the original traffic goals. The big win though was seeing how the people that read the sponsored stories engaged with the Tourism Whistler site afterwards. We saw up to 3x the engagement with the brand, and a fraction of the bounce rate as compared to their display campaign. It was our first proof point that we were really on to something.
What were you doing before Pressboard?
I was previously the Vice President of Client Service at Newad, a youth marketing company. One of my responsibilities was the growth of Newad’s digital publishing business. This is where I learned first-hand the challenges facing publishers and brands in the content space.
You used to be a mentor for GrowLab — have you ever been on the receiving end of mentorship? If so, how did it affect your journey as an entrepreneur?
I’ve had several mentors throughout my career. At Newad the owners of the business each had unique skill sets, whether it was finance, business development, culture, or vision. I learned from each of them how to apply those skills to a business effectively.
My dad is also a mentor for me. He’s owned his own business for over three decades. He taught me about hard work, keeping your clients happy and making sure you’re prepared to weather the ups and downs of the economy.
Sometimes you don’t immediately realize the impact mentors have had on you until you’re in a tough situation and you can apply some of those learnings, or can make that phone call, knowing they can help guide you through it.
How would you describe the culture at Pressboard?
I would say our culture is confident and causal. We’re a goal-driven team and everyone is accountable to their objectives, whether that involves business or technology. At the same time, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We’re not saving lives here — if you can’t have some fun being in the advertising business, then you should find a different career.
What do you look for when hiring?
Experience and work ethic. If you have the knowledge base to hit the ground running, and the work ethic to push through challenges, you’re at the top of my list. I also like to work with people who are lifelong learners. Curiosity is a personality trait that’s often overlooked, but can be highly valuable in a startup where you’re often charting new ground.
What companies or founders inspire you?
Living in Vancouver and working in the startup space, how can you not mention Hootsuite and Ryan Holmes? Taking a company from nothing to hundreds of people, a billion-dollar valuation, and meanwhile maintaining a culture that attracts great talent can’t be easy. I’m sure Ryan has had ample opportunities to cash out or move the company out of Vancouver, but he’s held to his vision of creating a viable and growing ecosystem in Canada. We’re lucky to have him in our community.
I also have a lot of admiration for what Ethan Song at Frank & Oak and Mikael Cho at Crew are doing. They’ve not only built great technology and strong business models, but they’re also building great brands that go beyond the product.
Do you have any rituals or routines to keep you grounded, focused, or inspired?
I have two little boys who definitely keep me on my toes! Having a young family and running a business definitely stretches you for time. In other ways though it drives a higher level of work ethic and efficiency. I somehow manage to fit in 12-hour days and still have dinner with my family.
I also take the bus a lot. You meet so many interesting people on public transit, and it helps break you out of the startup/tech bubble that we can get sucked into. It also gives me time to look around at the mountains, the ocean, and the city and remember why I live in Vancouver.
Based on your own learnings, what advice do you have for other founders?
Start early, start small, and get a paying customer right away. Until you have a paying customer, your business model is all hypothetical. I would also recommend that if you have a tech business, have a tech founder. I couldn’t have started this business without Tiam.