As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kean Graham.
Kean Graham is the CEO of MonetizeMore, an 8-figure ad tech company that is a Google Certified Partner with 100+ full-time team members remotely based across the planet. MonetizeMore was conceived in the mountains of Machu Picchu and has grown to $23M in revenues. Graham has traveled to over 90 countries during the 10 years that he has been growing MonetizeMore.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I originally fell in love with the online industry when working for a large online classified network. The job was an immense learning experience but once the recession hit, the company decided to lay off the marketing department. I lost the best job I ever had but I was determined to turn the bad into something great.
Five days later, I’m on a plane to South America to go on a life changing trip. Four months into my backpacking trip I was on a four-day trek through the incredible Inca trail towards Machu Picchu. By the end of it, I was sitting on top of Wayna Picchu reflecting on my experiences throughout my trip. I have had the most fulfilling time of my life and it finally clicked:
I will work and travel when I want, where I want.
I have to start a digital business to enable this autonomous lifestyle. Seven months later I started the digital business called MonetizeMore which now offers this autonomous lifestyle to every member of our team.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When I started the business it was challenging and exciting. I was able to break-even by month five. My first client was an employer that laid me off a year before. I offered them a percentage of the ad revenue increase and was able to make them additional millions. At the time, I was a one-person company and communicated myself as such. Since I communicated the business as just myself, they looked at my company as just an ex-employee. As a result, when I was increasing their ad revenues by over 300% and earning strong commissions, the executives saw this as unjust that an ex-employee was making 4x more than what he used to earn. As a result, they strong-armed a deal with much less commission.
Ultimately, my mistake was not communicating my business as something bigger than just myself. I could have avoided that re-negotiation because it’s reasonable for a larger company to receive large commissions to pay for overhead, technology and employees. Ever since that mistake, I always communicated my business as “we” rather than “I” even when it was just me out of habit!
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
The most influential book I have ever read was Four Hour Work Week for the following reasons:
- It inspired me to build a location independent business that now employs over 160 full-time team members.
- Encouraged me to travel the world while building my business.
- Taught me to work smart rather than burn out from working too hard.
- I emphasized the importance of outsourcing my life to focus on the things that are important to me.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I originally started MonetizeMore to enable schedule and location freedom for myself. I wanted to travel as much as I want while being supported from the income of my business. Little did I know, it would grow to something so much bigger.
I now offer this level of freedom to each one of our 160+ team members. For me, I use this freedom to have a lifestyle of travel. For others, they can live in that town they always wanted to live in that would otherwise not have much career opportunity. For many team members, they can avoid commutes and be around they children more. During this pandemic, the flexibility of remote work has proven to be very valuable!
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
My number one principle through the ups and downs has been authentic leadership. I never delegate tasks that you wouldn’t do myself. An authentic leader leads by example and not by orders. An authentic leadership company culture is empowered by the same work lifestyle that the leader has enabled for him or herself. Authentic leadership in the tech industry requires disruption via innovation that has never been explored before.
Authentic leadership has been great for level of trust that it builds within the organization and inspiration during good times. However, authentic leadership comes in most during bad times. When morale is low and challenges seem insurmountable, it’s the goodwill that has been built over the years of authentic leadership that is a key aspect of turning a company around.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
My girlfriend and I are currently stuck in Colombia during this pandemic. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to take any repatriation flights back to Canada because my girlfriend isn’t a citizen. Colombia has taken a hard stance on the pandemic relatively early by establishing a strict lockdown since mid-March. Having less freedom and outside time has been difficult but we have been making the best of it. We’ve been eating healthy, working out regularly, working a fair bit and staying positive.
All my family is back in Canada. While they have not contracted Covid-19, it does worry me if they do. My parents are in the 70s and my Sister isn’t healthy. I am worried from afar that there could be complications if they contract the disease so I regularly encourage them to be safe. Luckily, Vancouver has done a relatively good job controlling the spread.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
One of the biggest pandemic challenges we’ve experienced is to convince potential customers to make a decision for the better of their business while they are in a state of paralysis. This pandemic has been quite scary which has led to irrational behaviour.
While we have seen a drop in revenue in April, we are still healthy and profitable. We have switched gears to adapt to this impending recession by informing potential customers that our offering is more valuable during times of uncertainty, we have optimized and negotiated most of our large costs and we have started tracking leading indicators so we know ahead of time if we’re heading in the wrong direction we can make decisions before it’s too late.
While we are in good financial health now, ad budgets could drop to even lower levels. If that’s the case, we need to continue to be adaptable. That means we need to be more resourceful with what we can afford, find new efficiencies and identify new revenue streams.
Our team has no doubt been affected by this pandemic. It’s hard to keep a straight head with health, economic and social crises going all at once. It is up to leaders like myself to continue to give our team peace of mind that we have their backs and to help them refocus.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Lead by example: Exercise great hygiene, practice social distancing and encourage others to do the same.
Provide Practical Tips: Staying indoors doesn’t have to be all bad. Some tips around home workouts, learning resources and other productive things to do while at home go a long way.
Opportunity Instead of Crisis: Re-position this crisis as an opportunity. That subtle mind shift could be life-changing. Rather than loathing, people can take advantage of this additional free-time to work-out every day, focus on self-improvement content, stop drinking for an extended period of time and/or re-connect virtually with old friends.
Encourage Meditation: With all this extra time indoors, now is the time to take up meditation. It will decrease anxiety and improve people’s abilities to handle crises.
Be Positive: The last thing others need is more hysteria. Be a source of positivity and that will prove to be contagious.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
- Talent Pool: One additional A-player could be the difference between a down year and a growth year. During recessions, a deeper and higher quality talent pool becomes available. The Covid-19 crisis is the time to find your best talent, especially for MonetizeMore as we’re a 100% remote office.
- Acquisitions: When other businesses are struggling, that’s the best time for entrepreneurs to go shopping. During recessions, some entrepreneurs are more open to sell and at lower multiples. Recessions are the best periods to make strategic acquisitions.
- Thrive Don’t Dive: While your competitors invest less, make lay-offs and are strategically more conservative, this is your chance to realize growth. When your potential customers compare your company to your competitors, they will go with the company that is growing and thriving.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
- Social Distancing Habits Will Remain: After the lockdowns are done, people will continue to stay inside more than they have before. Connected TV usage will still remain high versus before this pandemic. Many offices will become more remote work-friendly.
- Germaphobia Will Continue: People’s fear of contracting Covid-19 will transfer into fears of other germs and viruses. People who never wore masks pre-pandemic will continue to wear them post pandemic. Shaking hands or kiss greetings will become less common. Sharing food at restaurants will be shunned.
- Senior Tech Proficiency: Seniors are either forced or will voluntarily stay at home for months straight. As a result, they are forced to learn new technologies that they never thought they would ever use. Technologies and platforms will see higher usage from older demographics post-pandemic.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We have seen slight decreases in April revenues compared to March which is also partly due to ad tech seasonality. We reacted by paying our team members earlier to better prepare for the pandemic and made our sick leave policies more lenient.
Despite what’s happening to most businesses, MonetizeMore is still in good financial shape. We plan to provide more support to our team members and continue to execute on our product roadmap.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I encourage other entrepreneurs to track cash flows very closely. It may look like you’re still profitable but running out of cash flow is the real reason businesses default.
I make myself available to any team members to directly message me via Skype, Slack or email and I make sure to be very responsive to their questions or concerns. I recommend other entrepreneurs to do the same. It’s best to be there for the team members to answer the questions and concerns during these uncertain times. Other entrepreneurs should strive to be the only source of security and certainty during this pandemic. That will ensure greater loyalty and higher quality work from their team members.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You will never write an extraordinary story until you realize you are the author”
This is an incredible quote because it enables me to enjoy my victories more and bounce back from my failures quickly. For victories, I know that even if there was a bit of perceived luck involved, it was my previous actions to inevitably lead to that event.
For my failures, I am able to learn from them immediately because I take responsibility and reflect on how I could have prevented the negative situation so that it never happens again. From there, I change a good thing into a bad thing by approaching the negative situation from a new clever angle. For example, we were disapproved by Google several years ago and lost millions as a result.
We responded by improving our screening processes, diversifying our revenue streams and creating invalid traffic detection and suppression technology called Traffic Cop to prevent this issue from happening again. As a result, we have re-built the company to be more sustainable and resilient than ever. It ended up being a blessing in disguise!
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