Back in late 2013, Jerrid Grimm was working at a media agency. One of his projects: managing sponsored content creation for a retail giant that would appear in major online tech media publications.
Other campaigns, not for sponsored content but for social media or signage, might take a few hours of work. This campaign took 250.
Jerrid had found a problem worth solving: in the fairly new but rapidly growing world of sponsored content — where companies pay publishers to have their content featured — there was a lack of process and standardization. Brands, media outlets and agencies each had their own way of doing things, slowing down turnaround times and ratcheting up costs.
He called his friend Tiam Korki (formerly CTO at Gauge Mobile). Together, they began hacking away at the problem, figuring out ways to automate and improve the process to reduce the time commitment hour by hour.
By April 2014, the friends had a company —Pressboard, a content marketing platform that acts as a matchmaker between the advertiser behind the sponsored content and the publisher, helping create, manage, publish and measure branded stories. Publishers set their own prices for sponsored content packages; advertisers can search for the publishers they want to work with, view their audience demographics and pricing packages, and hire Pressboard’s content studio to bring their idea to life.
“We took a 250-hour process and distilled it down into five or six clicks,” Jerrid says.
Today, Pressboard has clients like Telus, Toyota and Manulife Bank and works with publishers such as Entrepreneur, Vox Media and Apartment Therapy. In 2017, they closed a $2 million Series A round. And they’ve expanded from Vancouver, using the HIGHLINE.vc space in Toronto as a homebase before opening additional offices in Toronto and New York.
Here’s how Jerrid and Tiam went from hacking a problem to running a bonafide company with offices across North America.
Today, the media and publishing industry is an incredibly volatile space. Did that ever pose challenges for you?
The publishing market is always volatile, it feels like. It’s constantly changing. That is in our favour, because we are streamlining that volatility for our market, which is the advertiser. We are making it easier to work with all of these different publishers … Around the time we started, publishers were trying to figure out [revenue streams like] native content, sponsored content, and how they were going to execute it. The timing was great for us.
You were still building your platform as you were pounding the pavement and signing up advertisers and publishers. How did that work out?
We were super small. It was just me and Tiam. We had incredibly low overhead, no office, no real salaries. We could do stuff without worrying too much about how much profit we were going to make … We did things manually and were profitable from day one. We landed our first campaign within 14 days of starting the company.
Why did you decide to open offices outside of Vancouver?
Toronto is the primary advertising and media market in Canada by a factor of 10. In the U.S., you have primary markets like New York, L.A, Chicago, Dallas, Boston, Philadelphia. In Canada, you have Toronto. People on the west coast don’t like to say that Toronto is the centre of the universe, but in advertising, it is.
We opened our New York office in November 2016, with just one person and kept it at one person for a year. The U.S. is a 30 times larger market than Canada for advertising budgets. It’s the core market in the world for advertising and New York is at the centre of that. It’s important to be there in order to be competitive. We wanted to plant our flag there. It’s helped us grow our presence in the U.S. market.
Our New York office has four people now. Toronto is seven and Vancouver is 11.
How have you managed to stay true to your roots while expanding to new cities and a new country?
We’ve always kept all of our software development, account management and core services in Vancouver and in Toronto. In New York, we’ve focused on sales. Even in New York, one of our first hires was Canadian.
The industries in Canada and the U.S. are very similar. That helped. It wasn’t a big change to open an office there.
As a company we have this very Canadian mentality. Even the people we’ve hired in New York are very open and appreciative of our Canadian values — generosity, lightness, approachability, openness. That’s a core part of our business.
Interview has been edited and condensed.